Traveller letters: An alarming incident in Greece a warning to self-drivers

LETTER OF THE WEEK: CLOSED DOOR POLICY

After a lovely time travelling by ferry around the Greek Islands and a short stint in Athens, my partner and I hired a small car to drive to Delphi and environs. On the way back to Athens, we unfortunately took a wrong turn and ended up on a winding country road in an attempt to reconnect with the freeway. It was a few kilometres outside of a town called Thiva, when I, behind the wheel, noticed a boy of perhaps 12 years of age walking onto the middle of the road to block my path.

He raised his hands and naturally I pulled the car up. As soon as I did, three older boys appeared out of the side of the road, opening my partner's door and grabbing her by the arm. There followed a tug-a-war with my partner fighting, punching and shoving back (lucky for fastened seat belts). She then yelled "go" and I hit the accelerator. She suffered a bad case of strained arm ligaments and bruising; I'd urge all travellers to keep their car doors locked, avoid as much as possible being coerced into stopping and use GPS navigating systems.

Michael Carr, Kingscliff, NSW

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Brian Johnston, author of your cover story on guided tours (Traveller, February 15) and Traveller reader Steve James (Traveller letters, February 29) are both right about escorted/non-escorted touring. After experiencing one or the other, I developed a liking for a mix of both. In the walking Mecca of the United Kingdom, you can find operators who will work with you in tailoring to your wants and needs.

You become the architect and escort but with the full support of local experts. In Ireland, we hired a driver (for a group of six), who transported us and gave information and advice, but our daily activities, meals and the like were independent. In London there are people, usually history academics, who will construct a program based on your interests, and conduct fascinating tours. The point is, you can have input and control at different levels, in different ways.

Brian Jones, Leura, NSW

KEEP IT REAL

I loved Louise Southerden's article (February 15) on Venice. Whenever friends or acquaintances brag about their accommodation choice near St Mark's, Times Square, Spanish Steps, Eiffel Tower I merely smile and keep my mouth shut.

They mistakenly think they need to be in the thick of these iconic landmarks in order to experience a city. If they only knew that the reverse is the case. A week spent in an apartment (many years before Airbnb became a thing) with young children in the Cannaregio, one of the six sestieri (neighbourhoods) of Venice, still warms my heart.

Overlooking a kindergarten run by nuns on one side and a canal on the other, I spent hours immersed in daily Venetian life, interspersed with shopping locally at the market or from a barge. These experiences are what makes travel so enriching.

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Paula Wales, Research, VIC

RIGHT ON TRACK

The Savannahlander train in Far North Queensland was deserving of Tim Richards' railway review (Traveller, February 29). His report was faithful to a memorable journey I took last November. The service is user-friendly without too many "no" signs.

The driver-guides gave a common-sense briefing to inform passengers what to expect en route. Our intrepid explorers and railway builders forged a path so that we might enjoy this trip in comfort. I look forward to a future related article which describes the Gulflander train as it complements the overall experience.

Mike Fogarty, Weston, ACT

FINE PRINT

Travellers should be aware that travel insurance probably won't cover you for cancellations costs or medical expenses linked to the coronavirus disease, irrespective of when the bookings were made or insurance purchased.

The product disclosure statements that I have checked (NRMA and Allianz) exclude any claim linked to an epidemic or pandemic, or threat thereof. If you do travel to a country where there has been an outbreak of the coronavirus they also have a catch-all clause that states that if you knowingly put yourself at risk, you won't be covered. Verbal advice received is that this applies regardless of the smartraveller.gov.au advice level. Smartraveller's "Exercise a high degree of caution" is level two of four but is apparently sufficient to preclude any claim linked to the coronavirus.

Dan Dempsey, Oatley, NSW

ROO AWAKENING

Julie Miller's reference in her cover story, "Creature comforts" (Traveller, February 22), to the kangaroo tours on offer at the Anglesea Golf Club caught my attention, as it would rate as one of the best places to see kangaroos in the wild.

The golf club is home to about 300 eastern grey kangaroos with tourists who visit able take a 25 minute tour with a volunteer guide who will give them the opportunity to see kangaroos up close in their natural habitat. The article also mentions Raymond Island, which is where my husband and I, while staying at Paynesville in Gippsland, this week took the ferry and followed the koala trail.

Jan Stewart, Bellbrae, VIC

BIN THERE, DONE THAT

A few more ideas in response to Lance Richardson's article "Time to change course" (Traveller, February 22). Take your keep cup when you do fly, it can be used at the airport and on the aeroplane, and at your destination. This could avoid using many single use cups for your coffee or tea during your holiday.

In hotel rooms, choose just one of the rubbish bins for you and your room mate or mates to use; this can reduce the number of plastic bags wasted when the bins are emptied. Better still, reuse a plastic bag from home so the cleaners don't have to dispose of any bags supplied by the hotel. Also, just don't use the little containers of shampoo and conditioner that some hotels supply.

Johnny Hackett, Wonthaggi, VIC

FOND MEMORIES

It was with pleasure and nostalgia that I read the letter of the week from Maureen Brew (Traveller letters, February 29). We too, travelled to Syria independently just prior to the war. We saw wonderful ancient sights and met the most friendly and hospitable people.

Syria had so much to offer and we are so concerned for the general population that do not deserve this war that has been thrust upon them. We often think of what has now happened to the generous businessman in Damascus who insisted on choosing and paying for our postcards, or the jeweller in the Old Souk in Aleppo who had made the lovely silver and jade necklace I purchased. He was so proud of his work he insisted on us photographing him with his store's sign.

School groups visiting some of the sites were just as interested in us, and where we had come from, as the sites themselves. We think of them often and hope one and all are still safe.

Barbara and Victor Noden, North Sydney, NSW

READER TIPS

TIP OF THE WEEK: SHOW ME THE MONETS

I must let you know about a beautiful, and free, museum in Paris. It's the Petit Palais, in the 8th arrondissement, just off the Champs Elysée near Place de la Concorde. It is always overlooked as people seek out more famous (and expensive) big-name museums. But this one has it all - a magnificent building, over a thousand works, including some by Courbet, Cézanne and Monet, all in a gorgeous setting with a café and elegant courtyard. Best of all, few people go there and it is free. 

Margot Pope, Glenbrook, NSW

HAPPY CUSTOMER

In this day and age of complaining about insurers, I would like to congratulate CGU Travel Insurance.  Our forthcoming skiing trip to  Japan was cancelled due to the mountain closing early (the worst season in over 60 years). Before cancelling everything, we looked at alternatives  but, with departure in under two weeks, there was nothing available in the same price bracket.

Adding the coronavirus to the mix, we decided it would be best to reschedule for the same time next year. After lodging my claim over the phone, I was contacted two days later by a pleasant claims officer and I ran through all our associated expenses. 

She approved the claim immediately and the money was in my bank account in four days. We are frequent travellers and opt for an annual, multi-trip policy and with service like this, we will certainly continue to use and recommend CGU.

Kay Douglas, Hawthorn, VIC

CASE NOTES

These days there are helpful apps for so many things. When I travel, I use an app called Tripcase which is like a little virtual suitcase or folder on your phone that can contain every single booked aspect of your trip.

These details can be added by your travel agent or yourself. On my last trip I emailed to my Tripcase various booked excursions, concert tickets, accommodation bookings and transfers and my travel agent used it for flights and bookings he had made. No more wading through your emails to find various electronic bookings, or using different apps for different aspects of your trip. One central point makes it so much easier. 

Tatiana Podmore, Cremorne, NSW

CASH GRAB

Having previously used the NAB Traveller Card for various currencies without problems, I was taken aback to find I could not preload my card with Norwegian  or Danish kroner for an upcoming trip. Instead, I was told that I could load euros or pounds (or whatever) onto my card and the bank would then convert this to kroner for each individual purchase and charge me an additional 4 per cent each time.

The current charge on Visa debit or credit cards is "only" 3 per cent so the NAB has effectively ensured I won't use my Traveller card at all on this trip. And while they do mention, way down in their advertising blurb, that not all currencies are available on their card, they don't once mention this greedy grab for cash on a card they promote as completely free of any charges.

Merona Martin, Meroo Meadow, NSW

UNION DUES

We recently sought compensation for a delayed flight from Europe. Under European Union regulations if there is a delay in a flight of an EU carrier or a flight from an EU airport of over three hours, any affected passenger is entitled to compensation.

The compensation varies according to distance of the flight and length of delay In our case - as the delay was 24 hours and the length of the trip back to Australia was over 3500 kilometres - we were entitled to the maximum  compensation of €600 each. It proved difficult to deal with the airline directly, so a claim was made through one of firms offering assistance online (for a fee) and we were able to recover a total of €400 each.

Chris Webster, Newtown, TAS

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