QUESTION: I have heard of a no-frills "cruise" along the fiords of Norway on mail boats. Local travel agents have not been able to find out anything. Is it real?
ANSWER: There are indeed ships that take passengers along the coast of Norway, between Bergen in the south and the village of Kirkenes in the north.The service, now called Norwegian Coastal Voyages and operated by Bergen Line, was originally used to deliver mail, and though the ships are now mainly for passengers, they still deliver mail and some cargo.
The ships sail every day of the year, completing the 2,500-mile round trip from Bergen in 12 days and making 35 stops, weather permitting. The line has 11 ships varying in capacity from 130 passengers to 315.
The ships are said to be modern, comfortable and clean, and the Scandinavian-style cuisine well prepared, though the appointments are not lavish in the way of luxury liners. Entertainment consists of an occasional musical combo playing after dinner.
Rates vary according to time of year and location of cabin. For the full round trip, the least expensive cabin is $860 a person with two in a cabin, and the most expensive is $1,150 a person.
At high season, in the summer the rate per person in double occupancy ranges from $1,195 to $2,155. The rates include cabin, all meals and port taxes but not alcohol or shore excursions. Passengers may take seven-day cruises from Bergen to Kirkenes or six-day cruises in the opposite direction. There are packages that include air fare from the United States, a cruise on the northbound (total travel time 12 days) or southbound (10 days) leg, most meals, hotels in Oslo and Kirkenes and a train between Oslo and Bergen. The summer rates, out of New York, start at $2,655 a person for the 12-day package and $2,490 for 10 days.
Information and reservations: Bergen Line, 505 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017; (800) 983-1275 or (212) 986-2711.
QUESTION: I have rented a suite at the London Hilton for a Super Bowl party to entertain business clients. I would like to find a source of suitable American-style food to serve.
ANSWER: One source for food would be room service at the hotel. The menu includes hamburgers, cheeseburgers and steak sandwiches. However, if you want to order out, the hotel says it has no objections.
A catering service called Searcy Tansley, telephone 585-0505, can supply hamburgers, hot dogs, submarine sandwiches and other American-style food and deliver it to your hotel. American restaurants that provide take-out service, but not delivery, include Wolfe's, 34 Park Lane, telephone 499-6897, a short walk from the hotel; Ed's Easy Diner, 12 Moor Street, 439 1955, and Tony Roma's, 46 St. Martin's Lane, 379 3330, both within a 10-minute cab ride.
QUESTION: We are teachers, which means that we must travel in the summer. We hear that summer is difficult in India. What are conditions like?
ANSWER: Starting in March temperatures in India begin to rise, with high temperatures in the northern plains averaging 105 degrees in May and going up to 115 at times.
The monsoons begin in the south of the country in late May or early June and move north, covering practically the whole country by July, and lasting until early October. During the monsoons, it rains nearly every day, usually in torrents with sunny periods between.
Though the cloud cover moderates the temperatures somewhat - the average high in Delhi in July is 96 and in August, 93 - the increased humidity makes conditions less rather than more comfortable, according to Barbara Crossette, the India correspondent for The New York Times, based in New Delhi.
The rains and the resultant flooding can cause inconvenience and disrupt travel schedules. However, a benefit of traveling to India in summer is that there are very few tourists around, and popular sites are uncrowded and space in hotels and air-conditioned trains is almost always available.
Conditions in interior of India's center and the south are more moderate than the plains. For example, though Hyderabad gets very hot in April and May, in July and August the average highs are 87 degrees, and there are only 10 or 11 days of rain, with only 6 inches total in July and 5.3 inches in August. Bombay, on the west coast, is very wet, with similar temperatures but 24.3 inches in July and 13.4 inches in August.
On the southeast coast the rains mainly take place from October to December and summer is relatively dry. In Madras, for example, there are only seven rainy days in July (3.6 inches total) and eight in August (4.6 inches), with highs in the mid-90's.
The Rajasthan Desert gets just a bit of rain in the summer, and temperatures regularly go above 100 with the uncomfortable humidity added by the monsoons.
During the colonial days, the English in India used to escape the heat by going to the mountains to towns called hill stations. Many were in the mountainous northwest - mainly Kashmir, still popular for trekking and stays in houseboats on lakes - and in Assam, in the northeast.
However, political disturbances in Assam and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have led the United States Department of State to advise Americans to stay away from the regions. The State Department also warns of flare-ups of violence in Jaipur and Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
There are, however, similar places in other parts of India. For example in Darjeeling, in the northeast, the average high temperature in July is 66 and in August, 65, though it rains almost every day. The hills of West Bengal also are relatively cool.
You might also consider an outing to Nepal, only a flight of about an hour from Delhi. Hotels in Katmandu are often better than those in the Indian hill towns and are nearly empty in the rainy summer. High temperatures in Katmandu in July and August are in the mid-80s.