Q: We booked a hotel several months ago for an upcoming weekend trip. I just booked our flights and noticed we’ll be arriving later than expected. Is there a way to guarantee our room will still be there?
— J. Catana, Etobicoke
A: There’s nothing scarier than arriving at your hotel late to discover they didn’t hold your room. Hotels generally hold rooms until 6 p.m. But if you made the reservation with your credit card — which is pretty much the norm these days — they will generally hold your room. It’s still best to alert them to your late arrival though.
Q: Do you have any tips for budget-conscious travellers who will be visiting London this summer?
— L. Luu, Scarborough
A: Visitors to London can save money various ways. Transit is one. London has a Visitor Oyster Card valid for the underground, buses and trams. The pre-loaded "pay-as-you-go" swipe card is available in a variety of denominations starting from £20. The card is great for families, and children under 11 years old ride for free when accompanied by an adult.
London has Barclays Cycle Hire, a bike-sharing program similar to Toronto’s Bixi. Affectionately dubbed Boris Bikes — after London Mayor Boris Johnson, an avid cyclist and program booster — these short-term rentals are good for getting from point A to point B. Riders are charged access and usage fees. For instance the one-day access fee is £1 (about $1.60) and you get 30 minutes of usage for free. For one hours’ use you pay £1, £6 for two hours, etc. For details, see tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/14808.aspx.
When it comes to gallery and museum hopping, London has some extraordinary public institutions that have free admission to their regular collections. See the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum free of charge. View masterpieces from Rembrandt and Gainsborough at the National Gallery for free. Other public venues with free admission include the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
VisitLondon.com has a helpful search engine for penny-pinchers. Simply plug in "free museums" or "free galleries" and the results occur instantly. It provides a comprehensive listings page that is easily navigable. The website also includes details on special offers. In addition, VisitBritain.com has a special offers section listing accommodations, package deals, and more ways for budget-conscious visitors to save.
Q: I’m trying to organize a weekend bike trip with friends. We’re looking for a bike trail and places to camp outside Pembroke.
— D. Holman, North York
A. Cyclists will enjoy riding along the Cycloparc PPJ Trail on Allumette Island, which is an easy 10-minute drive along Hwy. 148 from downtown Pembroke. The 62-km island paved trail circles around the island on an old country road and connects to Quebec’s Outaouais region, where the path follows an old railway line. You can download a map of the Island Tour at cycloparcppj.org.
This is cottage country but there are a couple of privately run camps. You will see Adventure Source Expeditions (ottawa-river-camping.com) as soon as you cross the Interprovincial Bridge (Hwy. 148) from Pembroke. The camp sites are unmarked with a port-a-potty washroom. You can purchase groceries nearby at Dubeau’s Store.
Brennan’s Recreational Farms, in Sheenboro, is about a 10 minute drive from Chapeau, Allumette’s main town. This rustic no nonsense accommodations (four cabins) that is good for groups of various size. The farm will also arrange horseback riding. See brennanadventures.com.