We are a family of three travelling to Hong Kong in December, arriving at 2.50pm with a connecting flight to Mumbai at 7.50pm. Can you suggest anything we can do at the airport or can we venture outside to sightsee and return in time for our flight? Do we need visas if we leave the airport?
- M. Amaral, Sydney.
The Airport Express whisks you into the city in 24 minutes. It would be feasible, therefore, to spend a few hours in Hong Kong or Kowloon but the crowded streets and the hustle do not make for a relaxing experience and relaxation is probably what's called for.
Within Hong Kong International Airport's public areas, calm can be found in the miniature gardens and resting lounges on the Departures Level near gates 21, 26, 34, 41 and 61.
If you're prepared to pay, the Plaza Premium Lounges, pictured, (www.plaza-asia.com) at four locations within the airport offer showers, all-day buffets, a resting area with recliners, business centre, Wi-Fi, periodicals, massage and spa services. The price for all this magnificence is $HK400 (about $50) for two hours. Considering the benefits and the time between your flights, I'd be tempted to pay. You need to book at least three days in advance. Australian passport-holders do not need a visa to leave the airport.
Stick to the Med's coastline
We are planning a three-week trip to Europe in February. My boyfriend and I are both university students and would like to see France, Spain, Italy and Germany on a budget. What are the backpacker hostels like for double rooms and dorms, or would it be better to stay in motels? Would it be realistic to visit all four countries in this time frame and, if not, which country do you think we should leave out?
- K. Grainger, Newcastle.
Whoa right there. These four countries in three weeks is way too ambitious. Each is a chunky feast of experiences and if you try to gobble the lot, you will end up with a bad case of travel indigestion. Since you are looking at February, I'd suggest the bits of Europe that might be slightly warmer during the chilly season, which puts the Mediterranean coast of Spain and France in pole position. The region between Barcelona and Nice on France's Cote d'Azur gives you a handful of great cities, a gorgeous coastline, cultural diversity, a bit of history, a touch of glamour and great food and wine. Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com) has a one-stop service from Sydney to Barcelona. You could also take their Nice-Frankfurt-Sydney route.
Backpacker hostels are the way to go. Motels as we know them don't really exist in Europe. The only equivalent is hotels found along major autoroutes, which are dull and spiritless for the most part. If you could delay your travel plans until the Easter break in early April, it would be much the better for you temperature-wise.
Depp in the heart of Paris - and all on a budget
My husband and I are looking at spending two weeks in Paris in February. Is it possible to get accommodation for less than $150 a night? And will we have to join a tour group to see all the main sights or is it possible to see everything on public transport alone? My French is limited.
- R. Stanley, Canberra.
At the moment, $150 equates to about €110, which could give you a self-contained studio or apartment where you can save with a few do-it-yourself meals. Check the website of Petite Paris (petiteparis.com.au), an Australian-based operator with an ever-expanding array of bed and breakfast accommodation and apartments in some of the most desirable parts of Paris.
Since you are looking at a two-week booking at a particularly quiet time, speak to the folk at Petite Paris and see what kind of a deal they can broker. Chances are they can find you something with charm and character at a decent price. I'd be asking for a self-contained apartment or studio in a good area, such as Studio Apartment No. 88: a large, 17th-century studio at the heart of the chic Marais district, pictured, next door to where Johnny Depp lives when he's in town. Your husband might not relish an on-the-stairs encounter quite as much as you but, on the other hand, the world's most desirable pirate may have partner Vanessa Paradis in tow.
As long as you arm yourself with a guidebook, you won't need to join a tour. After your first couple of trips on the Metro, you'll have Paris in the palm of your hand. However, a good guide will reveal layers of the city you would find hard to discover on your own. I can recommend the walking tours operated by Virginia Dae (+33 1 4372 3882, parisinsight.com), whose small-group, personally tailored tours are an absolute delight.
If you want to work on that rusty French, check the BBC French tuition website (bbc.co.uk/languages/french), which will help vous parlez le francais couramment — and, what's more, it's completely free of charge.