We are two older people on our first trip to Italy. After staying in Sorrento for two weeks, we want to take 10 days to go to Rome, then Paris, stopping for a day here and there at other interesting places — if we knew where they were! We are on a limited budget. Can you advise about the rail networks, and "jump off" spots on the way?
- G. Guest, Springwood.
Assuming you'll be spending about three days in Rome, that leaves you with a week to get to Paris. Florence is one of the great cities of Renaissance Italy and it is almost obligatory for travellers to stop there for a day or two and pay homage to the works of Michelangelo, Brunelleschi and Giotto. Siena is another gem that you can easily take in on a day trip from Florence and it's far more likeable.
From Florence, head for Venice, just a two-hour train ride away. It's crowded, touristy, the city's hoteliers and restaurateurs are world-class gougers and don't get me started about the gondoliers, but Venice is so beautiful and wonderful it hardly seems to belong to this world. If you want to save money, book a hotel in Padova, less than a 30-minute train ride away.
One vital element missing from this itinerary is an experience of rural Italy, and so I am going to deliver you into the hands of Winnifred Rosser and David Malloch. Expatriate Australians and passionate Italophiles, they have made a home in the village of Polinago in the Apennines, where they operate Cherry House B&B (cherryhouseinitaly.com). They also provide customised tours of this lovely region and they can collect you from Modena or Bologna stations. Prices are reasonable, and they are ideal hosts to show you a side of Italy few visitors ever get to see.
The Eurail France-Italy Pass (railplus.com.au, 1300 555 003) gives you four days of travel within two months for a price of $296 for two people travelling together, and this will be cheaper than buying tickets as you go.
Beware those Polish roads
My husband and I are going to Berlin in July for a family heritage tour. We would also like to travel to Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic. Is car hire practical in Poland and the Czech Republic? Are there private tours or drivers that would take us to the small towns we would like to go to in Poland? Also, what are the top five things to see and where to stay in Denmark?
- A. Cohen, Maroubra.
Hiring a car might not be such a great idea in rural Poland. Roads in many parts of the Polish countryside are pretty shocking and rural drivers are only slightly less so. If you want to visit small villages that are truly off the beaten track, you would be better off taking a taxi or organising a car with a driver through a travel agency.
Copenhagen is worth three days at least. The island of Aero is known as the Jewel of the Archipelago, amply furnished with cobblestone villages made up of half-timbered houses painted in gelato colours. The island is ideally suited to cycling. On the island of Funen, Nyborg is a 13th-century town that was Denmark's capital during the Middle Ages, with a castle like something out of Hamlet. On the same island, Odense is picture perfect, as you might expect of the town that gave birth to Hans Christian Andersen.
Copenhagen is one of the world's most expensive cities but you can save on meals and accommodation if you rent an apartment. You can find plenty of choices for less than $100 a night on Airbnb (airbnb.com.au). The official website for Denmark (denmark.dk) has a link for visitors.
Step out of shoes and into Japanese tradition
We are a family of four visiting Japan for the first time in July and looking for advice as to where in Tokyo to stay for a family with two early teens. Are there family-friendly boutique hotels?
- J. Smith, Lane Cove.
Ryokan Sawanoya (sawanoya.com) is a small, friendly and traditional family-operated hotel in the historic Yanaka precinct, and it gets good reviews from Aussie travellers. You'll be sleeping on futons and leaving your shoes at the entrance but the owner is an excellent host with a big English-speaking clientele.
The closest station is Nippori, about a 10-minute walk. The rate for a double room with bathroom is 10,080 yen ($104).
The modernist Annex Katsutaro Ryokan (katsutaro.com) is another fine choice in the Yanaka district, again with Japanese-style lodging. The location is quiet, with plenty of interesting small shops and restaurants in the vicinity. A room for four costs 21,000 yen, the same as two standard double rooms.
If you prefer Western-style accommodation, Hotel Tateshina (tateshina.co.jp) is a basic, clean and efficient business-style hotel in a quieter part of the lively Shinjuku district. Rooms are small, which is typical of Japanese hotels, and the staff are friendly, but personality is lacking.
If you're looking to immerse yourself in Japanese culture rather than bypassing it, the first two would be better.
Ferry and train combo best
In July, we are disembarking from a cruise ship in Dover and need to travel to Paris. Is it better to take the ferry from Dover to France then train to Paris or fast train back through London? When should we book train tickets? I have heard these are expensive.
- T. Taylor, Cronulla.
According to the Ferry Online website (ferryonline.co.uk), the P&O Ferry Spirit of France takes 90 minutes from Dover to Calais and costs £29.50 ($44.50). Calais to Paris is a minimum two-hour journey priced from £27.50.
Dover Priory to London St Pancras is a two-hour journey and the cheapest fare is about £27.50. London to Paris on Eurostar is just over two hours and the cheapest fare is £39.
The ferry-train combination will get you there faster and, since it's also cheaper, this would be my choice.
You can usually book train tickets three months in advance, four in the case of Eurostar, and this is when you should find the cheapest seats.
Everyone asks ...
What's your favourite travel destination?
I get asked this a lot and the answer is Japan. Nowhere else is so strangely wonderful and as wonderfully strange. From the time when I wake up to a pre-warmed toilet seat until the moment I lay my head on a pillow — buckwheat on one side and what feels like marbles on the other — I am surprised and entertained by this land of delicious paradoxes. What I am putting in my mouth for at least half the time in Japan is a total mystery. The fact that I can make neither head nor tail of the language only adds to the intrigue. In Japan, I feel I am out in the world for the very first time and mostly out of my depth and, for the jaded wanderer, novelty is a gift from the travel gods.
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