Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield has some answers to our readers' questions as he reviews another week in the world of travel
ON THE GROUND
On May 23, domestic flights on short routes in France that can be done by train in less than 2½ hours were banned. It will rule out flying trips between Paris and regional hubs such as Lyon, Bordeaux and Nantes — though connecting flights for international arrivals are unaffected. French authorities are aiming to cut emissions.
My issue with trains in France, and other places, is security. You’re hurtling along in a metal tube, like a plane on the ground, with the potential for catastrophic results, with no security before you get in. Compare that with the scans and checks before flights.
Come to think of it, my issue with trains in France and other places is making sure I’m standing at the right spot on the platform when the train arrives. When you pre-book a seat, you have to be ready to get into the right carriage.
ON THE WATER
Australian cruise company Coral Expeditions has completed the installation of advanced satellite and 4G broadband on its three ships. It will give guests and crew reliable and high-speed service when they are in remote areas. After a month of work to install it, the ships have been testing it in the Kimberley, Raja Ampat, Komodo and Cape York.
All guests will have complimentary access to standard wi-fi as part of their fare inclusion. They can pay for upgrades enabling access to higher bandwidth. Mark Fifield, group general manager, says: “This new system takes advantage of recent improvements in satellite technology and worldwide coverage, combining the state-of-the-art Starlink network with 4G connectivity where available. We have replaced ship antennas, networking equipment and service providers. Our ships are reporting access speeds faster than our offices in Cairns!”
UP IN THE AIR
Reader Steve Luplau is planning to cruise from Sydney to Hawaii in April and then fly home, and asks whether it’s best to book flights now, a long way out, or wait for sales. With the airline industry still clawing back the losses of the last few years, if you see a price that is palatable, take it. There might be spot sales here and there, but we can’t see any big promotional runs of sale prices on the immediate horizon. I’d be looking to book during the “winter lull”, in late June and July, when things might soften.
BRUSSELS & BEYOND
Readers Ann and Geoff Roberts have a different conundrum on their hands.
During a trip to Europe, they have a few days spare in Brussels and are wondering what to do with them, asking: “Are you aware of any short stays somewhere for those days? Either France or another country close to Brussels?” Here are my thoughts on what I’d do, in order . . .
Don’t write off Brussels itself. The Palais Royal, Museum of Fine Arts, Musical Instruments Museum (I’d head there first, personally) and Marolles flea market. There are some interesting walking tours for “historic Brussels”. Then there’s the nearby Herge Museum, telling the story of the creator of the Adventures of Tintin. There’s nothing wrong with staying there for a few days but . . .
They will be only about 50km from medieval Ghent — a really pretty and interesting place. You could easily split the days between the two. A train ticket is about $20 each way (have a look at SNCB for example). Ghent has lots going for it – Gravensteen (brilliant), fine arts museum, boat trips, city bicycle tours etc. Nice.
If that’s still not enough, they will be about the same distance again to Bruges and the low countries coast.
If they want something “done and dusted”, I’d look for short tours (though most tend to concentrate on war sites). Back-Roads touring company’s trips in the area are a bit long for them, but it’s a good company to have up your sleeve. backroadstouring.com
Then again, of course, they could just jump on the train to Paris. I stay in St Germain.
PS Ann and Geoff kindly add: “The Travel section in the paper is all I buy it for. You are an amazing team.”
Reader David of Belmont raises an interesting issue. He says his wife is hoping to have a hip replacement next year, but in the meantime has daily pain and it severely impacts her knees too. David adds: “We recently bought beds that can be raised at both the head and feet and this has helped greatly in her sleeping fairly well. We’ve just had a few lovely, restful, days based in Margaret River but, of course, in a normal queen-sized bed, requiring use of pillows to assist her sleeping posture.” He asks if any holiday accommodation providers have beds that can be raised, adding: “She’s certainly not alone in this need and if there’s no business currently catering for this then surely there is an opportunity for some to establish some rooms with such beds and open up to a new market.” I have never come across a hotel room with a bed that raises, though many hotel chains make great play over having their own brands of comfortable beds. David adds: “While we don’t intend to give up on such small breaks, if there was accommodation that would better suit my wife then they could well get our business.”
I recently mentioned having cleaning costs added to accommodation bills, pointing out that they are a “cost of business”. Sue Turner, of Central City Exclusive Apartments in Perth, came back with her own thoughts: “Yes, cleaning is a part of cost of business, but guests have to pay for the entire cost of business otherwise the accommodation provider would go out of business. Charging a cleaning fee is just one method of collecting that payment.” Righto. But Ann then also points out that cleaning is a set charge, so it wouldn’t be good to spread it into the nightly cost of accommodation: “Given that a three-night stay and a five-night stay both require the same cleaning, it is just a fairer way of charging guests so that what they pay is for their service.” Yeah, I get that Ann.
And now, to something more relaxing than thinking about all that mathematics. The Reef House Boutique Hotel and Spa in Tropical North Queensland has introduced a facelift massage. This ancient Japanese massage technique is said to give an instant facelift. The Reef House Spa director Isabelle Neil says the roots of their new “visage intense marine facial” can be traced to Kobido, dating back to the 15th century. The treatment was reserved only for the Empress. Isabelle adds: “I learnt the technique as part of my French training with Dior, Phytomer and Clarins as a way to strengthen the facial muscles and release tension helping to lift each of the muscle groups in the face. It gives an instant result by taking the downward pressure off the facial muscles.” Apparently, the therapist kneads the muscles and does upward sweeps, followed by what feels like fingers dancing on the skin. (Warning: it cannot be performed after recent treatments with botox or fillers.) Count me in.