Trip Coach: Jan. 10, 2006

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Budget Travel editors answered your questions

Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions!

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Bayonne, NJ: Hello,: I am going to Gibraltar in March 2006. I am interested in doing a day-trip to Tangier, Morocco. Do you have any available information so I can make the day-trip possible?

Budget Travel Editors: There are two main ways to get to Tangier, Morocco from Gibraltar. Your first option is to leave directly from Gibraltar, where the only Tangier-bound ferry leaves once a week on Fridays at 8pm for a weekend trip, returning at Sunday evenings at the same time. (Tanger Jet Turner & Co. 011-350/78305, frs.es, $71 roundtrip). But your better option is to pop over to the neighboring Spanish port of Algeciras where ferries to Tangier leave every hour year-round. (Buses from Gibraltar leave every half-hour from the bus station for the 30-minute ride to Algeciras and cost $2). Many companies run the high-speed ferries from Alegeciras to Tangier, but tickets ($71 round-trip) are valid for all companies. You can buy tickets at the port and hop on the first vessel you like. Your best bet might be to book a day trip with a company like Viajes Transafric, which runs day-trips to Tangier, leaving every day from Algeciras at 9amand including transportation, guided tour, lunch, and time for shopping (011-34/956-654-311, $59). For further information, contact the tourism office of Algeciras 011-34/956-572-636. As for the border crossing, U.S. citizens don't need visas (just a valid passport) for visits to Morocco under 90 days.

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Tampa, Florida: I am considering driving from Bucharest, Romania to Dubrovnik, Croatia which would mean traveling through Bosnia. Considering the current State Department advisory, should I be concerned about making this drive. What is the condition of the highways in Bosnia.

Bottom line - is this advisable or not?

Thank you,

Budget Travel Editors: While conditions along your route through the Federation section of Bosnia and Herzegovina and rapidly-developing Sarajevo are improving, they are still annoying at best, hazardous at worst. With only about six miles of highway in the entire country, expect hours of overcrowded two-lane roads, which you'll be sharing with the truckers. Locals aren't exactly known for their flawless driving behavior either; speeding and drunk driving are increasing problems. You would be wise to drive in a convoy, and only during daylight hours. (Roads along your alternate route through Serbia and Montenegro are not any better.) So unless you'll get a thrill from white-knuckle driving in some of Europe's least forgiving conditions and the lingering presence of landmines, stick to the bus and train system.

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Salt Lake City, UT: We fly into Milan, Italy on 14Feb06 and are going to rent a car for 6 days. Where would you suggest we go?

Budget Travel Editors: Before hitting the road, I'd suggest devoting a day or two to Milan itself. Italy's business and fashion capital gets a bad rap for its overcast weather, high prices and (comparatively) fast pace of life, but the city may surprise you-it has a vibrant cultural scene (its famed opera house, La Scala, recently reopened; Da Vinci's Last Supper resides here) and sophisticated sense of style (stroll down Montenapoleone, its rough Fifth Avenue equivalent). You'll have a wealth of options for exploring Lombardy and Piedmont during the remainder of your trip.
The Winter Olympics, Feb. 10 -- 19, will be in full swing in Turin, about an hour-and-a-half drive to the southwest from Milan; you could try for last-minute event tickets (cosport.com), but expect lodgings to be scarce. Ten miles west of Turin in the Val di Susa, the 12th century Benedictine abbey Sacra di San Michele is perched atop craggy Monte Pirchiriano. Its formidable and maze-like structure was the inspiration for the setting of Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose. Follow the trail, about one-and-a-half hours, from the town of Sant'Ambrogio up to the abbey (open daily, 4 euros). Hiking and driving directions are available on their website. The Barolo valley's wine-producing villages lie about 35 miles to the south of Turin. You can sample the regional fruits at Castello Falletti in the town of Barolo (daily, 2 euros per tasting) or explore the area by car (complete list of area wineries: barolodibarolo.com).
To the east of Milan, you can explore the beautiful mountain-ringed lakes Como and Garda. The city of Bergamo lies just beyond while small and lovely Cremona, best known for its world-class violins, is an hour to the south. Of course, distances are much smaller in Europe than in the U.S.; you could high-tail it to Florence (186 miles) or to Venice (151 miles) instead if you prefer to hit up major tourist attractions.

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Santa Fe, NM: My husband and I are planning a 9 day driving trip around Vancouver Island, BC in June of 2006. What are the must see sights? We enjoy the outdoors more than the indoors. We are debating whether to fly into Seattle, Vancouver or possibly Victoria and rent a car. What is the best strategy?

Budget Travel Editors: I'd suggest flying into Vancouver or Seattle. Flying into Victoria is pricey, plus and car rentals will be more expensive and less plentiful. If you fly into Seattle, you'll definitely need to rent a car as it's a 3 hour drive, depending on border delays (about 150 miles, driving north on Interstate 5) up to Vancouver. Even if you fly into Vancouver, I recommend renting a car, since you'll want to explore the island's beaches, forests, and stunning views.
Either way, you'll need to take a ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo or Victoria. Check out the ferry schedules at bcferries.bc.ca.
Have you thought about camping on Vancouver Island? There are many campgrounds on the island, including beautiful settings in Nanaimo and Oyster Bay. Cabins are also available, if you don't want to travel with camping gear. Check out Tourism Vancouver Island's website (islands.bc.com) for a list of accomodations.
Don't forget that Canada is a foreign country. We strongly recommend bringing a passport, especially for reentry into the U.S. Find out more at Washington State's Department of Transportation website (wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/border) or Canada's Border Services Agency website (cbsa-asfc.gc.ca
Weather-wise, bring a jacket and be prepared for mild days (60-70 degrees), chilly nights, and a strong possibility of some rain--it's the Pacific Northwest, after all!

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Port Chester New York: 10 of us are going to Rome for a cruise. We will be arriving 2 days ahead. What are the best tours to take?

Budget Travel Editors: Enjoy Rome (Via Marghera 8/a, 011-39-06/445-1843, enjoyrome.com) offers three-hour general orientation tours that are educational and entertaining. For example, they might mix smart tips for making sense of ancient ruins and the Sistine Chapel with colorful anecdotes about gladiators and mischievous popes. Guides are young, English-speaking expatriates and Italians. Walking tours $18-$25; bike tour $24-$30. The unique Catacombs and Roman Countryside bus tour ($35-$41, plus $7 catacombs admission) takes you to a remote park with spectacular ruins of an ancient aqueduct. Note: Lower prices are for people age 26 or under.
And if you feel like splurging, look into Context Rome (011-39-06/482-0911, 800/467-1986, contextrome.com), the Ivy League of tour companies in Rome. Not cheap, but you get your money's worth. Learn a ton about Roman history, art, and culture on private and small group walks led by experienced American docents who live and work in Rome as archaeologists, architects, art historians, or food critics. One hour to full-day excursions, from $18 (visit to normally-closed sites like Palazzo Farnese or underground tombs) to $277 (full-day tour to Pompeii and the archaeological museum in Naples). Note: Admission prices are extra.
Finally, if you just want to toot around the city on your own, try Bus 110 Open (Piazza dei Cinquecento, 011-39-06/4695-2252, atac.roma.it), a double-decker bus with an open-air second deck that departs every 30 minutes from Piazza Cinquecento (Termini station), and operates a hop-on/hop-off service for most major sights, including the Colosseum, Mouth of Truth, Piazza Navona, St. Peter's Square, and the Trevi Fountain. Minimal on-board commentary in multiple languages, including English. Tickets are valid all day. $18.

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Northwood NH: Do you have any info on budget safari in Feb for Nairobi area, kenya. I read a previous article you did on South Africa bucket shops, and wondered if you knew of any good ways to get discounted trips upon arrival in Nariobi??

Budget Travel Editors: While "budget" and "safari" are two words that are rarely uttered in the same sentence, there are a couple of reputable tour operators that are known for offering reasonably priced trips into the African wild. We'd recommend 2Afrika.com, which is offering several trips to Kenya, like its 5-night safari for $2,300, which includes all meals, game drives, accommodations, and airfare from NYC; $1,100 for the land portion only. Airfare will always eat up a good portion of your expenses for a trip like this, and in February, you can expect to spend around $1,000 for round-trip airfare between major gateways, including Nairobi. For safety reasons, we don't recommend that anyone land in Nairobi and wander around on their own in search of a budget safari operator, and highly suggest researching and organizing your safari in advance. 2Afrika.com has about 20 Kenya safaris on offer right now. Besides having excellent prices, they're Africa experts.

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Thornton, PA: What is the latest on Cancun and/or the Riviera Maya? How many hotels are open and what is the infrastructure like? We've heard there are still problems with clean water and sewage.

Budget Travel Editors: It's been more than two months since Hurricane Wilma ravaged the Yucatan Peninsula with 150mph winds. And while popular spots like the Riviera Maya and Playa del Carmen have in many ways returned to normalcy, Cancun won't look like Cancun for months. It's famed white sand beaches have all but disappeared and many hotels continue to be closed-the Hilton Cancun Golf and Spa Resort, a longtime fixture in the hotel zone, won't reopen until May. Rebuilding will take time, however there is good news to report. President Vicente Fox has earmarked $19 million to rebuild the beaches (with work beginning next week) and many restaurants and hotels hope to be open by spring break. Still, if you're planning a getaway to the Yucatan within the next few months, it's best to consider those regions to the south that were spared considerable damage. For post-Wilma updates, visit caribemexicano.gob.mx and wilmacozumel.com.

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Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all your great questions. See you next week!

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