Subject: Winter travel and Portugal?
Hi John,

You are a wonder! Your travel writing has me packing my bags before I remember that a) I hate packing and b) I hate cold weather!

Nevertheless, I'm claiming some of those extra points you offered to Southern Hemisphere Ziners forsaking the balmy summer days for ....... ice, snow, sleet, rain, frost ...... Yikes, I think I just forfeited the bonus points. Not quite the right spirit here.

This year I will be abandoning the delights of mid-summer in my home towns of Melbourne and Sydney and forsaking New Year at the family beach house down the coast, where the most energy of the day is spent over the breakfast table, deciding the dinner menu for that evening. Will we BBQ the Thai prawns? baby octupus? stuffed calamari? barramundi? flathead fillets in beer batter? How about all of the above - with a few dozen oysters while we wait! And break open the bubbly - gently, please!

We have been invited to spend Christmas 2002 in the mountains of Portugal, on a farm without central heating, with a family the majority of whom are non-English speakers (although no doubt their command of English will far exceed my command of Portuguese!). Should be an adventure? Lots of new people to meet and a glimpse of a very different tradition within a large extended family. And, of course, the weather will be a great excuse to eat piles of good food and drink new wines - not that I ever need an excuse for those activities.

Then it is on to Bologna for New Year with friends there - again, cold, cold, cold. We have been to Bologna many times over the past few years but never in winter, so another adventure. More opportunities for the sublime food and wine of Bologna, along with new traditions to observe and participate in. But I will need a lot of thawing out after all of that! A tropical break on the way home will be the order of the day.

Do Ziners have any recommendations for the best way of travelling from Portugal to Bologna in December/January? Is the drive likely to be too hairy? Would the train be worth the time it would take? Do we just fly and enjoy more time on the ground? Any should do stopovers? (We could take three or four days to do the trip or simply add those days to our time either in Lisbon or in Bologna.)

And any favourite hotels in Lisbon for our few days there before heading for the mountains and the farm?

All suggestions warmly welcomed.

Joan Melbourne, Australia