Tripologist: Public transport the best bet for city travel

My husband and I will be staying with friends at a farm in Tuscany at the end of June. We would like to spend a few weeks beforehand travelling through Italy, starting in Rome and including Florence, Venice and possibly the Cinque Terre. We are not sure whether train travel or car would be better. Could you suggest an interesting route that we could take? And also, the best areas to stay in these cities?
- J. McLeod, Wamberal.

Since most of the places you intend to visit are cities, I'd be taking trains. Having a car makes no sense in Italian cities, and that goes for cities throughout Europe. In general, urban public transport networks are fantastic and by far the best way to get around, while a car is nothing but a headache.

If you plan to start in Rome and end in Tuscany, you could travel by train from Rome to Venice, to the Cinque Terre (pictured), to Florence, and then join your friends in Tuscany. However, if the villa is close to Florence, you might prefer to visit the city on a day trip.

You will need a vehicle when you go to stay with your friends. Chances are you'll be in an isolated spot and without a car of your own, your options will be limited. Try VroomVroomVroom ( or Carhire (

The best place to stay in these cities is close to the centre, but it depends how much you want to pay. Historic accommodation with real charm and character can easily cost $250 a night and up. But these are not essential components of a memorable holiday. You should be able to sleep in comfort for far less, and usually in a central location.

For accommodation, check the Venere ( website, and consider the reviews - they're a great asset.

You might also consider Air BnB (, which puts you in touch with people with rooms or apartments for short-term rental to visitors, often at a keen price.

Planning is the key to crowded Carnival in Rio

My wife and I will be on a ship for two days in Rio de Janeiro along with eight others (and more than 3000 other passengers) during Carnival. The ship's tours of Corcovado and Sugarloaf Mountain are booked out. It is my intention to get an early start on the second day and catch a taxi to Cosme Velho and then the first train at 8.30am to Corcovado, then on to Copacabana Beach. The first day would be used to go to Sugarloaf Mountain. I would appreciate your thoughts on these ideas.
- T. Denham, West Pennant Hills.

You are right on the money here. Sugarloaf Mountain is a great idea, and try to get there early because the queues for the cable car will stretch out quickly, since Carnival takes place at the height of the tourist season, and with that, there will be many cruise vessels in port.

A taxi from your vessel to the cable car station is the way to go. Ditto for Corcovado on day two, but be sure to start early. The train is the best option to reach the statue of Christ the Redeemer at the 690-metre summit. Follow it up with Copacabana Beach and its eye-popping array of sculpted and well-tanned bodies that show all the advantages of a multicultural gene pool, and you have got a lot to take in.

Lunch in one of the cafes along the beachfront on Avenida Atlantica would certainly put the icing on the Copacabana cake.

Making the most of the incredible spectacle of Rio's Carnival requires careful planning, and Rio Services Carnival ( has a useful website.

Rio de Janeiro is also notorious for petty criminals targeting tourists. Don't wear any jewellery, carry minimal cash and credit cards, and keep your wits about you.

Dangers remain in Ambon

My uncle Ian Jaffrey (2/21st Battalion) was 26 and one of the many Australian POWs who lost their lives in Ambon during World War II. I have wanted to visit his grave for many years, and now two older relatives would like me to accompany them to Ambon War Cemetery. My wife and I are pretty hardy travellers, but my relatives will need a little more TLC. Should we fly from Jakarta, or travel some of the way on local ferries? I note that DFAT travel advisories suggest exercising "extreme caution". What would you suggest is the best and safest option for the four of us to get there?
- J. Newman, Birchgrove.

Current advice posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Smart Traveller website says that you should "reconsider your need to travel" to Maluku Province.

Ambon, the provincial capital, has been the scene of simmering violence between Christians and Muslims, with deaths on both sides. This is a localised conflict and visitors have not been targeted, but you would need to be circumspect and register your travel plans on DFAT's Smart Traveller website (

I visited Ambon briefly in 2008 and from what I saw of the local ferries then, you would probably feel safer and more comfortable if you fly. The airline, Garuda Indonesia (, has direct flights between Jakarta and Pattimura Airport in Ambon.

Fastest option is to go direct

I have heard there are often delays on arriving at London's Heathrow Airport, so do you think it is more efficient and less stressful to fly into Heathrow (from Sydney) and go by taxi to the hotel, or to fly into Birmingham International Airport, transfer to the railway station, catch the train to London, and then get a taxi to the hotel?
- R. Dalton, Queens Park.

My pick would be Heathrow. Despite its reputation for chaos, in terms of the vast numbers of passengers it handles, London's Heathrow does a fairly good job of processing most of them in reasonable time.

If you choose to fly into Birmingham, rather than Heathrow, from Australia, you will have a much-reduced choice of airlines, probably with less-favourable connections, and possibly less-competitive fares.

A taxi from Heathrow to central London will cost between £45 and £70 ($70 and $110) and take about an hour. My advice would be to catch the Heathrow Express (£18), which takes just 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington station, followed by a taxi from Paddington to your hotel.

Everyone asks ...

What's the best SIM card to use offshore? When you head overseas, remove your SIM card. Insert it in your phone to check messages and voicemail, then take it out. Ensure data roaming is switched off. The best and cheapest option for responding to messages, updating Facebook and making free calls via Skype is to use free wi-fi. Second best, buy a prepaid SIM card at your destination. Country hopping? Buy a prepaid SIM card from TravelSim (, WorldSIM (, GO-SIM ( or One SimCard (

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