I will be staying in the 16th arrondissement of Paris over Christmas with my dad. Any suggestions for things we can do on Christmas Day, including where we can go for a casual lunch that won't cost a fortune?
- R. Stanley, Canberra.
The major attractions and many restaurants will be closed on Christmas Day, but Paris still has plenty to offer.
I'd start the night before, with midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in Notre Dame. You need to get there early, probably an hour before, to even stand a chance of getting in. There are also several Masses that precede this, including a foreigners' service, usually at 8pm.
Paris has a few open-air ice-skating rinks over this period, and it's just as much fun to watch as it is getting out on the ice. One is at the front of the gorgeous Hotel de Ville, another on the first level of the Eiffel Tower.
Google "About Paris restaurants Christmas" and you should find a page of suggestions with various price points. My pick is Bofinger, a classic bistro on the edge of the Marais district - whichever you choose, you should book well ahead.
The Christmas lights transform the Champs-Elysees into something really special, best seen looking towards the Arc de Triomphe.
The large department stores put on a star turn for the Christmas festivities, so take yourself off to Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
What would Christmas be without chocolate, the metier of Patrice Chapon, who shapes and moulds it into exquisite, jewel-like creations. The one-time royal ice-cream maker to Buckingham Palace, Chapon now has several shops in France, including Chocolat Chapon at 69 Rue du Bac, near where it crosses Boulevard Saint-Germain on Paris's Left Bank.
Plenty of pubs tempt the palate
We are travelling through England in late December-early January and want to stay one night in a genuine old British pub, preferably in Hampshire. We were looking at the King's Arms (Marco Pierre White's place) but they have told me that they will be closed at that time. Could you advise of another option, please?
- A. Gripton, Leichhardt.
What about the Red Lion, a classic New Forest pub close to ye olde village of Boldre, not far from Lymington? While the food might not come up to the same standard as Marco Pierre White's fare, most of its dinner guests come away with smiles, and happier wallets.
Although it's in Marlow, so not in Hampshire, the Hand & Flowers is the first British pub to win two Michelin stars, which puts it in the same league as Le Gavroche and Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Marlow is a scrumptious village on the Thames, perfect for a country walk.
Take the ferry to explore the city's sights
My husband and I are cruising between Singapore and Kobe in February with Holland America. The Hong Kong day has no shore excursions as this is a port for the end of one leg of the cruise and the beginning of the next. We are keen to see some sights. We dock at 7am and depart at 4pm. How do you suggest we reach the city from the port and what should be our priority to see in our limited time there? I do use a walker for mobility assistance.
- J. Forsyth, Ballina.
Holland America's MS Volendam will dock at Hong Kong's Ocean Terminal, which is on the Kowloon side, right at the bustling heart of the city and opposite Hong Kong Island.
If you Google "cruise Hong Kong shore excursions" you should find the Shore Excursions page from the official Hong Kong Tourism Board with some suggestions for how you might spend your day.
My idea would be to take the Star Ferry across the harbour to Central on Hong Kong Island. This is a wonderful trip and, at less than a dollar each way, it's also one of my favourite ferry rides. Make sure you sit upstairs, although this is fractionally more expensive.
When you get to the ferry terminal, catch a taxi to the Peak Tram Lower Terminus in Garden Road and take the Peak Tram to the city's highest viewpoint, Victoria Peak. Purchase a combined ticket, which gives you access to Sky Terrace 428, with incredible panoramic views over the city, the harbour and outlying islands.
Next stop is the venerable Peninsula hotel, close to the ferry terminal at Tsim Sha Tsui back on the Kowloon side.
This is one of the world's most venerable hotels, known for its service and refinement, and the way to see it is over afternoon tea, served daily in the lobby starting at 2pm. A healthy appetite is required and there are no reservations, so show up early and you should be able to get a seat.
If you're in the mood for shopping, the giant Harbour City shopping complex is close to where your ship is berthed.
Temple visit perfectly safe
My husband and I want to visit Java and especially Borobudur on a short trip (eight to 10 days). We are particularly interested in a small-group tour but so far I have not been able to find anything. Is it unsafe or is there no demand? Can you please suggest a suitable tour and what is the best time of year to visit?
- T. Mills, Rankin Park.
Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a significant Buddhist monument. Thousands visit every day and there is no reason to be concerned on grounds of safety. One tour operator that receives consistently good reports is Borobudur Tours and Travel.
Google "TripAdvisor Borobudur Tours and Travel" to check some of the feedback on this tour. The operator's specialty is small-group and individual itineraries and travel is in a comfortable, airconditioned vehicle. It can also arrange hotel accommodation in the area, which gives you the chance to visit the monument in the morning.
Since you have plenty of time, you might consider a more extensive tour of the Central Java region, to include the great Hindu monument at Prambanan, a cultural tour of Yogyakarta and Surakarta and possibly Mount Bromo. Borobudur Tours and Travel has various tours that might suit you, and it can also tailor a trip specifically to you.
The best time to visit this region is during the relatively cool and dry months between April and August.
Mark Smith is a trainiac. Train travel is his passion and over the years his website, The Man in Seat Sixty-One, has become a well-fleshed resource for train travellers throughout the world, with simple and concise information and great advice, including how to get discount fares in France and Italy using their mad national railways online reservation system.
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