Ask Joan - Cuba and exporing Europe by rail

Best time and places to stay in Cuba, family trip to Europe by train

 

When is the “best” season to visit Cuba, from the point of view of hurricane risk and excessively high temperatures? We would like a good hotel while in Havana for a few days but would also like to tour the island staying in “casas particulares”. We would love to spend five to seven days sea swimming. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. – AH, Cork Cuba’s highest temperatures are June-September and hurricane season is June 1st-November 30th, so March-May would probably be a nice time to visit. Fly via Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam or Toronto, prices are in the region of €650-€800.

The most famous hotel in Havana is the Nacional and while quaint and authentic, it has changed little in 50 years, hotelnacionaldecuba.com. Hotels are of varying quality. There has been little investment for years. Services that we take for granted are not always available or cost a lot, such as wifi. For a better-value stay try the Hostel Casa Vana Cuba, in the Vedado area of the city, hostalcasavana.com.

Autenticacuba. com has a really good list of beaches (under “Things to do” tab) with descriptions.

Casas particulares are similar to B&Bs and a good way to experience Cuban life and meet local people, there is a list of places to rent all over Cuba on casaparticular.com. The owners may also have suggestions of good local places for swimming. You may like to read, The Other Side of Paradise by Julia Cooke to get a feel for life in the new Cuba.

We would like to take our two teenage daughters by train to Italy in June. The idea is to take in some significant cities en route – London, Brussels, Luxembourg and Geneva – before travelling by train through the Alps to Milan. We’d like to spend about a week getting there and will then join friends in Italy for another week before flying back to Dublin.

My question is what is the cheapest way to buy train tickets for two adults and two teenagers? Are there family offers on 14-day Eurail tickets? Or, should we just book a ticket to our destination via the cities we’d like to stop off in? – ST, Wicklow Booking rail travel in Europe is getting easier but still quite convoluted. Fares tend to only go in the system 60-90 days in advance. Family tickets, when available are generally for children under 11-years-old. You will be able to buy youth fares for the teenagers.

Breaking down the journey, the first trip from London to Brussels on Eurostar will cost from £41 (€57), eurostar.com. From Brussels to Luxembourg with Belgian Rail (b-europe.com) will cost from €39 adults and €26 youths.

Luxembourg to Geneva is the most expensive leg of your trip and will cost €111-€125, change at Basel, b-europe.com or voyages.sncf.com. The final leg from Geneva to Milan is best value on trenitalia.com, from €29.

The German rail website is good for finding routes and timetables, see bahn.com. The rail planning site seat61.com is also a useful resource for rail travel everywhere.

The Eurail ticket is similar to the Interrail ticket and for travel on five days in a 10-day period would cost €264 adults and €192 youth fare. The interrail.eu site has a map and guidelines making reservations. You may not need reservations on every leg of the journey. It does give flexibility on travel and can be bought in Ireland from Railshop.ie, tel: 01- 8828679.

Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com