ONLY IN AMERICA
You may not believe this, but it is true. When I faced Border Control in Los Angeles on the morning of June 17, the officer examined my (Australian) passport and said, "I need another official, government ID."
I asked for, but was not given, any explanation. It was fortunate that I had my NSW driver's licence with me otherwise, I may have, I suppose, been put on the next plane back to Australia. (PS: Please note the word "need" in the above.)
I think that all travellers to the US should be apprised of this. I wonder if the relevant federal minister would be interested.
Michael D. Hirschhorn, North Rocks, NSW
LETTER OF THE WEEK: CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
It is opportune, with the mountain stages of this year's Tour de France under way as I write, to recall the eastern alpine region of France.
This year the Tour climbs Alpe d'Huez, the most famous of them all, with its 21 hairpins, each marked by a plaque bearing the corner number and the elevation at that point, from the lowest at 21 to the highest – number one – at 1713 metres.
There is a ski village just past the race finish with a milepost monument with racing bicycle attached, showing the elevation of 1815 metres at that point, and the distance to the stage starting town, Bourg d'Oisans.
There are many of the famous Tour climbs in the Rhone-Alpes region. To travel them, even by car or motorcycle, is to be astounded at the stamina and strength of the professional cyclists who must conquer these steep mountain roads.
You will see some fabulous scenery, including, with luck, a marmot, a placid, rabbit sized rodent that lives among the grasses at these high altitudes.
Brian Macdonald, Watsonia, VIC
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I agree with Brian Johnston (Traveller, July 7) that Emilia-Romagna is a wonderful food destination. Readers might like to know that there are numerous small group tours available from Bologna, Parma, and Modena, eliminating the need to organise individual visits yourself and drive.
On a recent trip to the region, we chose the "Italian Days" tour from Bologna (italiandays.it), and couldn't have been more delighted.
As part of a small group of eight tourists, we took in a Parmesan factory, a balsamic vinegar producer, and a prosciutto factory, with delicious tastings and local wines at each stop.
The day was hosted by our enthusiastic and knowledgeable English-speaking guide, Alessandro, and was topped off with a magnificent meal at a local agriturismo. It was great fun and good value.
Linda Stern, Alphington, VIC
COMPUTER SAYS NO
As Bali's volcanic Mount Agung bubbled into action again recently we were due to fly to Indonesia on a diving holiday. This meant a flight via Denpasar, in Bali.
As we anxiously waited to see if the volcano would settle we looked into whether our travel insurance would cover us if the trip was cancelled.
We possessed a Columbus Direct multi-trip policy which we had renewed for over 10 years.
Despite nothing specifically-listed in their 18-page policy disclosure statement nor mentioned to us at renewal we were told "no".
We won't be renewing next year with Columbus but we did have a wonderful trip in the end.
Jenni Davidson, Balmain, NSW
CUP RUNNETH OVER
After having spent three wonderful FIFA World Cup weeks in Russia here are my top 10 impressions:
1. Moscow is one of the best cities in the world; fantastic sights, history and interesting culture and people.
2. Russians are very welcoming and curious to meet Australians and other foreigners.
3. Kazan, on the river Volga, is the beautiful multicultural capital of Tatarstan.
4. Samara, also on the Volga, has a gorgeous river walk and beach. Samara used to be closed to foreigners.
5. Kazan Arena and Sochi Fischt Olympic Stadium are fantastic football venues.
6. In Sochi, on the Black Sea, it is nice and quite hot.
7. Russia is not suitable for vegetarians/vegans or those wanting to go on a diet. Georgian food is the best – try it.
8. Wi-Fi in Russia is a lot faster and more reliable than in Australia.
9. The pace of life in Russia is slow and relaxed.
10. Western goods and brands are available everywhere. The cost of goods and services is quite low compared to our prices. English is not widely spoken but that's all part of the fun.
Go to Russia soon before it becomes more similar to other developed countries.
Georg Robers, Sandringham, VIC
PAIN IN SPAIN
A return trip to Madrid was booked via Qantas but with Emirates flights. Because I have Qantas silver status I was allocated a seat, but Emirates refused to guarantee to seat me and my partner together anywhere on the plane unless I paid another $100, which reluctantly I did.
Both airlines have avoided responding on the matter, just sending a standard reply stating how much they care for their customers.
Don Garden, Kew, VIC
I was interested to read Tim Richards' article on Chernobyl (Traveller, July 7), particularly in respect to the tour company's estimate of a radiation dose of 0.004 millSieverts in 30 hours. It equates to around 1.2 mSv per year and would qualify as one of the least radioactive places on earth.
Australia has one of the lowest annual background radiation levels at 1.5-2 per cent and the word average is approximately 2.5 mSv. Official estimates of radiation at Chernobyl are around 5 mSv per year – still quite harmless but certainly more than 1.2. If you want to be a radioactive thrill seeker, try the beautiful beaches of Kerala in Southern India with background doses of 15mSv per year.
Kerala also has the highest life expectancy and literacy rate in India – make of that what you will. For the ultimate dose of 50-100mSv go to Ramsar in Iran.
Charles Pope, Morpeth, NSW
LIFE: BE IN IT
I am a regular reader of Traveller and have had a number of (rave) letters published over the years. I'm pleased to see the editor's note in Traveller letters that there will be no further debate on the hotel doona issue.
In fact none of these "rant" letters should have been published but offered a response of "get a life or stay at home".
Goodness me. I've been travelling for some 50 years, pre online bookings, Patagonia in the 70s, Guatemala during the troubles, Alaska before the tourists, and when travel, even rough, was dear as poison compared to current costs.
Toughen up travellers. You whingers are giving Australia a bad name.
Travel is about the experience. Sometimes the tough experiences are those that make us appreciate what life is all about.
John Carroll, Caves Beach, NSW
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