My wife and I plan to celebrate her 50th birthday by holidaying first in Puglia, Italy, then travelling to Crete. Can you suggest the cheapest and most direct way to fly to Crete from Puglia? How many days do you suggest we spend in both places to do them justice?
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater write:
All roads lead to Rome, or so the saying goes, and in the case of travelling from Puglia to Crete, this age-old adage still applies. There are other ways of getting there but the quickest and cheapest way is via Rome's Leonardo da Vinci (Fiumicino) airport. Bari to Rome is a one-hour flight or four-hour train ride with Trenitalia.
A week in Puglia followed by another in Crete should give a real taste of these Mediterranean destinations.
Puglia's sun-bleached landscapes and striking coastline are best explored by car. Consider starting your tour in laid-back Vieste in the north with its sandy beaches and medieval backstreets before heading south via the lush forests of Parco Nazionale del Gargano. En route dip into pretty Polignano a Mare, a spectacular town above the Adriatic Sea, then head inland to Alberobello - a Unesco World Heritage site of 1500 beehive-shaped houses.
Other highlights include Lecce's glorious baroque architecture and Locorotondo, a borghi piu belli d'Italia - one of the country's most beautiful towns.
Crete is a delight for travellers. The island is split by a spectacular chain of mountains running east to west, with most major towns situated on the more hospitable but rather touristy northern coast.
The Minoan palace of Knossos is Crete's major tourist attraction and is definitely worth a visit, as is the town of Hania with its rich mosaic of Venetian and Ottoman architecture. Natural wonders include Samaria Gorge - a popular hike - and Elafonisi's pristine beaches and turquoise waters.
Help the Philippines
I am planning a trip to the Philippines towards the end of this year and would like to help out on a one- to three-week volunteer programme while over there. I am interested in doing either an environmental programme or one that works with children in need. Can you recommend any?
Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:
You'll probably have heard of WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an international exchange that links volunteers and organic farmers, with the aim of promoting environmental sustainability. The movement is gaining momentum in the Philippines. At wwoof.ph there are about 10 properties welcoming volunteers. There's a nominal joining fee and you'll be expected to undertake five to seven hours of chores each day in return for food and lodging.
Gawad Kalinga is another reputable organisation, now operating in about a dozen countries. Founded in the Philippines in 1995, its primary aim is to build homes for the poor. Lonely Planet blogger Mark Wiens writes very favourably of his Gawad Kalinga experience (search "how volunteering can lead to extraordinary travel experiences"). His carpentry skills were well rewarded by the kindness and home cooking of his host family.
Clearly a determined volunteer, Mark also shares a story of a day spent in a Balinese orphanage. Not long after he and a friend passed the gate, they were playing with the children and helping with dinner. Some larger international volunteer organisations make it easier to offer your services, but you pay for this privilege.
The Global Volunteer Network, which runs environmental and children's projects in the Philippines, is one example
If you're interested in learning more about volunteering independently, check out The Underground Guide to International Volunteering by Kirsty Henderson (available from nerdynomad.com).