Travel: Tips on a winter trip to Japan, Buenos Aires transport and Swiss rail journeys

Nanjing Night Net

Chilling out: Nagano snow monkeys in Japan. Chilling out: Nagano snow monkeys in Japan.

Chilling out: Nagano snow monkeys in Japan.

Chilling out: Nagano snow monkeys in Japan.

Engineering feat: The Glacier Express is one of the great Swiss rail journeys.

MY PARTNER,15-YEAR-OLD SON AND I ARE HOLIDAYING IN JAPAN IN EITHER DECEMBER OR EARLY JANUARY. WE ARE TRAVELLING TO TOKYO, HAKONE, TAKAYAMA, KANAZAWA, KYOTO AND YUDANAKA TO SEE THE SNOW MONKEYS. EARLY DECEMBER WOULD BE MUCH CHEAPER FOR AIRFARES BUT MY PARTNER THINKS THAT THE SNOW WOULD NOT BE THICK ENOUGH TO ENJOY THE WINTER SCENERY. ANY ADVICE ON TRAVEL IN DECEMBER RATHER THAN JANUARY AND TIPS ON ACCOMMODATION FOR THREE? WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO START BOOKING HOTELS AND FLIGHTS?

M. KENT, LISMORE

January is colder than December throughout Japan but even so, December is plenty cold enough to have a high probability of snow. If you want to be assured of Japan under a blanket of snow, your itinerary should include the northern island of Hokkaido, which gets heavy winter snowfalls. If airfares are substantially cheaper in December, I’d be inclined to go then rather than in January.

The crucial choice is whether to stay in Western or Japanese-style accommodation. Japanese is better value but it does take you into slightly unfamiliar territory, especially at breakfast time. However coping with these differences and sleeping on a futon does offer a much greater feeling of cultural immersion. Check accommodation reviews on Tripadvisor (tripadvisor南京夜网419论坛) to see what might work best for you.

The time to book airfares and accommodation is now. Closer to departure time, the cheaper seats will be the first to fill. If you book direct with hotels in Japan rather than through an online travel agent, the hotel will often accept your reservation without requiring an upfront payment or credit card details, just one of the touches that makes travelling in Japan a pleasure.

WE ARE CRUISING FROM VALPARAISO TO BUENOS AIRES WITH A FEW DAYS IN SANTIAGO PRIOR. WE HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT WE SHOULD ARRANGE PREBOOKED PRIVATE TRANSPORT FROM THE AIRPORT TO OUR SANTIAGO HOTEL AND FROM BUENOS AIRES PORT TO OUR HOTEL IN RECOLETA. WOULD A TAXI OR A SHUTTLE BUS BE SAFE? WHAT AUTHENTIC WINERY AREA FROM SANTIAGO COULD YOU RECOMMEND? IS THERE A TOUR FROM SANTIAGO TO ISLA NEGRA AND VINA DEL MAR TO VALPARAISO?  WHAT DINNER AND TANGO SHOWS WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IN BUENOS AIRES?

M. FREELAND, MAROUBRA

Some travellers have reported problems when taking a taxi from the port in Buenos Aires, since some drivers rely on confusion and lack of familiarity with Argentinian currency to scam the hapless. You could avoid this if you prebook private transport. Two operators that provide this service are Gray Line (grayline南京夜网) and Cruising Excursions (cruisingexcursions南京夜网).

On your journey from the city to the airport, book with Taxi Ezeiza (taxiezeiza南京夜网.ar).

Santiago’s airport offers a prepay taxi scheme, Via Controlada. Look for a counter in the passenger arrival area, buy your ticket and you’ll be assigned a cab. When you step outside to the taxi boarding area, a staff member will help you find your assigned taxi.

The Casablanca Valley is a prominent winegrowing area within easy reach of Santiago. Santiago Adventures (santiagoadventures南京夜网) is one operator that can put together a tour for you. Bodega Wine Tours (bodegawineschile南京夜网) is another operator that gets good reviews.

For dinner and tango in Buenos Aires, We Are Tango (wearetango南京夜网) is much smaller and more intimate than most, but La Ventana (laventanaweb南京夜网) and Tango Porteno (tangoporteno南京夜网.ar) get generally good reviews.

MY HUSBAND AND I ARE VISITING DIJON FOR A WEEK IN LATE AUGUST. WE PLAN TO SPEND THE NEXT FOUR TO FIVE DAYS EXPLORING SWITZERLAND. WE WILL HAVE A HIRE CAR IN FRANCE BUT ARE NOT SURE WHETHER TO DRIVE AROUND SWITZERLAND OR DO IT BY TRAIN. ANY ADVICE ON MUST-SEE PLACES AND A SUGGESTED ROUTE?

L. HUTTON, CASTLE HILL

While I prefer Europe with my hands on the wheel I would happily make an exception in the case of Switzerland. Not only does it have some of the most fabulous alpine and lake scenery on the planet, the engineering feats accomplished by the Swiss railway builders make this nirvana for anyone who loves rail travel. Any list of great Swiss rail journeys would have to include the Glacier Express (glacierexpress.ch)  and the Bernina Express (rhb.ch) but there are plenty more such as the William Tell Express, the GoldenPass Line and the Swiss Chocolate Train.

Coming from Dijon you’re probably going to enter Switzerland somewhere close to Lac Leman and I’d suggest you leave your vehicle at Montreux and board the The GoldenPass Line train which will take you through mountain villages to the Bernese Oberland. Stop overnight in Interlaken and next day take a ride to the Jungfraujoch, the top of Europe at 3454 metres and Europe’s highest railway station. Hang on to your hat, it’s an amazing journey. Continue aboard the GoldenPass train to Lucerne, a really lovely city well worth an overnight stop. Next day, hop aboard the William Tell Express for the trip to Locarno in the Italian-speaking Ticino region, which is a lovely part of the country even by Swiss standards. Overnight in Locarno and the next day take a train back to Montreux, which can take as little as 3½ hours. If you had more time you could take the train from Locarno back to Andermatt and pick up the Glacier Express on its way to Zermatt.

With just four to five days in hand you’re going to be speeding through some areas that deserve a lingering look. If you can add a couple more days to your Swiss journey, so much the better.

CONVERSATION

OVER TO YOU…

The question was “What’s the best cruise you’ve ever done?”

R. and A. O’Donoghue write “Antarctica aboard G Adventures’ MS Expedition. A challenging crossing of the Drake Passage was rewarded by five days of amazing sights and experiences, from walking among penguins and seals to kayaking between icebergs. Outstanding food, service and education and small passenger numbers allowed us to really get to know like-minded people and develop a camaraderie missing on bigger ships.”

A. Bott writes “Istanbul to Barcelona via Athens, Dubrovnik, Venice and Rome in early June.  A wonderful 12 nights with Norwegian Cruise Lines – their Freestyle Cruising is so relaxing, comfortable and fun. Our party of 14 flew in from around the world to join up and make this the most memorable holiday ever!”

From J. and D. Blake, “Aboard the Discovery in 2010, 71 nights from Cape Town to England. Up the east coast of Africa visiting over 40 ports, through the Suez Canal and around the Black Sea. The safari in Kenya and Valley of the Kings were among the highlights. Because it was a small ship we were able to call at little ports that the larger ships are unable to visit.”

“In 2005, we chose the tiny Discovery for our very first cruise,” according to H. McHugh. “A short cruise around New Zealand into those fabulous fiords and remarkable east coast cities. The elegant ship, friendly crew, classy entertainment, delicious cuisine, unbelievable scenery and the social mix of international and Aussie travellers gave us the best holiday ever.”

D. Smith writes “Princess line offers a truly magical cruise in its Grand Circle Pacific. From Sydney to Darwin, north to Asia, Vladivostok, across to Alaska, then Canada, the United States, four Hawaiian Islands, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand. Arriving back in Sydney as the sun rose was idyllic. After 75 days we were reluctant to disembark.”

“For me nothing will beat the Queen Mary Inaugural Caribbean Christmas Cruise 2004,” according to D. Minton. “Two weeks of luxury cruising my dream destination, celebrating with old friends and new friendships and experiencing such special times at Christmas and New Year’s Eve.”

Next question: Marco Polo to Bill Bryson, travel books are a great source of inspiration. Got a favourite?

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