Have a blast on Santorini

Q: We are pensioners and would like to find budget accommodation on the Greek island of Santorini, preferably near the harbour. Is there any chance of pensioner’s discount? – Suki van Niekerk

A: Santorini is one of Greece’s most expensive islands, but it is still possible to find affordable accommodation. I am not sure whether you want to be close to the actual harbour (which is a busy transit point) or higher up the mountain in one of the scenic towns overlooking the port. The main tourist zones are the towns of Fira, Imerovigli, Firastefani and Oia which have the “picture postcard” views and are the most expensive. Then there are the towns of Perissa and Kamari, best known for their black sand beaches. There are plenty of other villages, close to archaeological sites or beaches, which are less known and offer the best value. Perhaps one of the more developed areas close to all facilities would be best for your group.

Any time outside of peak season – July and August – you should be able to negotiate affordable accommodation with a travel agent on arrival or one of the many guesthouse touts. If you would like to ensure your accommodation in advance, then check out some websites. Try www.travellerspoint.com, www.hotels.com, www.booking.com and www.santorini-hotels.info. With many hotel rooms priced at hundreds of dollars a night, a nice room in a hotel with a swimming pool for less than $100 would be considered affordable. I don’t know of discounts for pensioners.

Q: We are going to be in New York for about 10 days before departing on a cruise and would like to spend some time out of the city, be it a day or a few hours. Can you suggest any train journeys from Grand Central? – Enid Knight

A: Manhattan’s Grand Central is the terminus of the Metro-North Railroad (MNR), which offers you some great opportunities for day trips. You can take the New Haven Line to Greenwich, Connecticut. The journey takes 40 minutes and there is plenty to do and see in this wealthy community. It has some good beaches and great views over Long Island Sound. With some luck, you may be able to attend one of the festivals and fairs held regularly. There is a brochure titled Metro-North One-Day Getaways, which is available from tourism offices in New York or you can consult the www.mta.info/mnr/html/getaways.htm website.

For more traditional sightseeing, you could take the train to cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston. These cities all have their own attractions, which are viewed during walking tours or organised excursions. If you are happy to travel from Penn station, you can head for scenic Rhinecliff, where you can enjoy small-town life in horse-farm country. The journey is only 90 minutes, but you may well opt to stay over at one of the pretty hotels – the Beekman Arms (www.beekmandelamaterinn.com) or the riverside Rhinecliff Inn (www.therhinecliff.com).

For longer journeys, there’s the Empire Service from Penn. It will take you all the way up the Hudson River, and is the most scenic train journey on the East Coast, full of rivers, mini-fjords, waterfalls, forests and historic villages. For a really great trip, take this service to the Niagara Falls. Much of the route follows the New York State Barge Canal and Hudson River. The trip takes nine hours and costs $78 each way. Visit www.amtrak.com for details.

Q: When do the January shopping sales in London start? Do all the big stores participate and are there real bargains on offer? – Jane Leerkom

A: The January sales in London actually start on Boxing Day, December 26. The start of the sale season is signalled by the Harrods Boxing Day sale, which offers big discounts on everything from designer wear to electrical goods. Other famous stores that start their sales on Boxing Day include Harvey Nichols, Fortnum Mason, Selfridges and House of Fraser. Shops in Oxford Street and Regent Street are also open with discounted goods on sale. Apparently there are great bargains to be had, especially on goods that were aimed at the Christmas gift market. The sales run throughout January, but the best bargains will have been snapped up by the time 2012 dawns.

Q: My wife and I are staying in San Francisco in September for four nights. Can you recommend a hotel near the waterfront and restaurants? – Rob Baudinet

A: One of your best bets is the four-star Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf, which is only a 10-minute walk from Pier 39. It has all the luxurious touches one would expect and there is an outdoor swimming pool. The best daily rate I could find for your dates in September was $304 a night.

Another good hotel is the Radisson Hotel Fisherman’s Wharf, located close to the pier and light rail station. Expect to pay around $254 a night for a double room. The Holiday Inn Express Fisherman’s Wharf offers comfortable three-star accommodation for $246. All these prices were offered on the discount website www.booking.com and exclude 15.50% in taxes.

Other hotels close to the waterfront include the Courtyard by Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel, the Hilton San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf and Holiday Inn.

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