Dr Latitude: Walking in a winter wonderland

We have been thinking of taking a trip to Canada for three weeks in January 2008. There are four of us travelling - two adults and two children aged eight and 11. Is this a difficult time to travel in Canada, given weather conditions, and would tourist destinations be closed? Train travel would be our preferred mode of transport across the country. Is this viable in their winter? Could you suggest an itinerary and offer any other travel advice? - Marianne Castor

There's no getting around the fact that Canada in January will be cold, dark (sunset at 4pm) and, in some places, possibly snowbound. But if your family enjoys train travel and winter landscapes, your trip could turn out to be a holiday to remember.

You'll find that some outdoor attractions will be closed (unless they involve snow), although cities will have plenty to offer whatever the season. To give you an idea of average winter-time temperatures, Ottowa, Montreal and Toronto average a chilly maximum temperature of around - 5C in January; Quebec drops to - 8C; and Winnipeg and Saskatoon plunge to - 12C. But, over on the west coast, Vancouver averages a comparatively balmy 5C.

Unfortunately, rail journeys such as the Rocky Mountaineer don't run in January but the three-day cross-country Toronto-Vancouver trip on the Canadian (www.viarail.ca) runs year-round.

This journey is so extensive that you could base your itinerary on the route alone. Stops to explore include Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops. You can stroll to the Skyline dome-ceilinged coach with panoramic views and kids' meals are available onboard. Fares in comfort class start at about $550, half-price for children under 11.

A 12-day unlimited travel Canrail pass could be the way to go, costing around $640 per adult and $570 for children for economy-class train travel. You could also use the pass to travel between Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls (two hours from Toronto), if the minus-zero temperatures don't put you off.

The Skeena is another fabulous train trip, running between Jasper, Prince George and Prince Rupert.

Specific highlights for children include the animal-filled Biodome and ice skating on Lac aux Castors in Montreal, filling up at the Chocolate Museum in Quebec City, visiting the Science Centre in Toronto and spending time at Vancouver's aquarium and IMAX theatre.

For more ideas, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet's Canada guide or chat with fellow travellers on the Canada and Kids to Go branches of Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree travel forum (http://thorntree.lonelyplanet.com).

Egyptian transport
We wish to travel from Alexandria to Port Said for two days. We then intend to travel up the Suez Canal to Ismailia, preferably with a stop by the canal as a ship is passing, and then drive around Ismailia to visit past haunts before moving on to Cairo the same day. Can you advise whether to use buses plus a taxi in Ismailia (if available) or if we should take a taxi all the way from Port Said (once again, if available). How could we ensure getting a reliable taxi driver? - Pat & Margaret Nankivell

Buses service just about every town, city and village in Egypt, though they vary in standard. Luckily, the relatively comfortable air-con "deluxe" buses ply the routes you have indicated. The best of the deluxe buses is Superjet.

Travelling by service taxis is the quickest way to get from city to city and, unless you're hiring the entire taxi, is often the cheapest way to travel. But we don't recommend you use them. Accidents involving them are all too common.

East Delta Bus Co departs hourly from Port Said to Ismailia from 6am. It takes just over an hour to travel the 85km ($1.70).

If you travel by bus you won't be able to stop to watch ships passing through the Suez Canal. However, the 50km stretch of road from Port Said to Qantara runs right along the canal and you can watch the ships from the window. It's quite a sight.

The canal is surprisingly narrow up close, which makes the colossal cargo ships gliding through the water seem even larger. Viewed from afar, they look as though they're ploughing through the desert. From Ismailia to Cairo, there are buses every half hour until 8pm, taking two hours ($2.30).

You'll find plenty of taxis in Ismailia. Just put your hand out and one will stop. Taxis are often shared and drivers will stop to pick up other passengers on the way. If you want your own taxi, you'll need to state this at the outset.

Taxis don't have meters and money is not mentioned at the beginning of a trip. If you ask how much, you'll just give yourself away as someone who is fair game for overcharging.

Drivers assume that you'll know the correct fare and just hand it over at the end of the trip. For short trips around town expect to pay between 30c and $1.20; from the city to the beaches, around $1.70.

You can never be sure of whether you're getting a reliable taxi driver; you just have to decide on a reasonable figure, stick to it, and not be bullied into handing over too much at the end. If you want to hire a driver for half a day, then consider they won't be able to pick up other passengers, so make sure you offer something fair and decent.

Before heading off, be sure to read the travel advisories for Egypt posted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz) and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au).

Day in Buenos Aires
I am travelling to Peru in November with three other women. On our way home, we will land in Buenos Aires' Ezeiza airport at 6.30am, flying out at midnight. Is it easy to leave the airport and could you suggest interesting things to see in our limited time? - Sandra McInnes, by email

Ezeiza airport is around 35km south of central Buenos Aires. Shuttle buses run by the Manuel Tienda Leon company (www.tiendaleon.com) are the best option for getting downtown. They run every 30 minutes throughout the day, dropping off at the terminal near Plaza San Martin on Avenida Madero (the Sheraton Hotel is a good landmark for dropping off and picking up).

The company has reservation booths in the arrival hall and staff can also organise a taxi ($23, much cheaper than four bus fares); ignore the unauthorised touts who will come up to you in the airport terminal offering you a lift as they're famous for ripping off tourists.

Your whirlwind, one-day circuit of Buenos Aires could take in the Plaza Mayo precinct with its cathedral and presidential palace, shopping on pedestrianised Avenida Florida and in the Parisian-influenced Galerias Pacifico shopping centre, gawping at the opulent mansions on ritzy Avenida Alvear, a shot of art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a quick look around the city's famous Recoleta cemetery, then a meal at Munich Recoleta on RM Ortiz in front of Plaza Intendente Alvear.

You should be able to manage all of this on foot, as Buenos Aires is a marvellously walkable city and hoofing it is absolutely the best way to get a quick handle on a new city.


Sleeping options
I don't want to spend a fortune on one-night stopovers and I have four in my forthcoming trip. Any suggestions for Narita (Tokyo), Gatwick (London), Changi (Singapore) and London City? - Allan Lenton

Narita Airport is 66km east of Tokyo, and getting into the city can take between one and two hours. If time allows, you could stay downtown and see a bit of Tokyo, either catching the underground train to Ueno Station ($10.50; one hour) or picking up the "limousine" bus service that travels between Narita and a number of major hotels ($33, up to two hours).

If time is tighter, there are several airport hotels in the vicinity with shuttle services to make your stopover easier.

Those with complimentary shuttle services include the Mercure Hotel Narita (www.mercure.com; doubles from $95), the Hotel Nikko Narita (www.nikko-narita.com/english/index.html; rooms from $169; shuttle bus takes 10 minutes; Japan Airlines check-in service) and the Garden Hotel Narita (<"a href="http://www.ishinhotels.com/garden-narita/en">www.ishinhotels.com/garden-narita/en; doubles from $116; shuttle bus takes 30 minutes).

Gatwick is 48km south of London, with direct connections to Victoria Station via the Gatwick Express train ($41 one way; 30 minutes). There are lots of "budget" B&Bs and hotels around Victoria, including Cartref House (www.cartrefhouse.co.uk; doubles $246). Hotels near Gatwick, with free shuttle services to the airport, include the Gatwick White House Hotel (www.gwhh.com; doubles $131; courtesy bus takes 10 minutes) and Gainsborough Lodge (www.gainsborough-lodge.co.uk; doubles with en suite $154; courtesy bus takes 10 minutes).

You should have no problem shuttling to and from your accommodation in Singapore as Changi Airport is linked to the centre by underground ($1.75, 30 minutes) and maxicab buses run regularly to hotels in the CBD ($5.80 one way). There aren't too many hotels in Singapore around the $100 mark but they include the English-style Sloane Court Hotel (www.bestlodging.com/sites2/24709/index.shtml; doubles from $79), and the boutique-style Hotel 1929 (www.hotel1929.com; tiny but cute doubles $115). The onsite Ambassador Transit Hotel (www.ibishotel.com; doubles from $150) and Custom House Hotel (www.customhouse-hotel.co.uk; doubles from $157).

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