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Faster Than a Speeding Train

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page P03

Q I'm going to be in Japan and would like to ride the bullet train. Can you provide any information?

Drex George


A Japan's Shinkansen bullet train, which debuted during the year of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, zips along almost 1,500 miles of track, covering most compass points. The original route sped (at 125 mph) from Tokyo to Osaka, but it has since expanded (and accelerated) to such areas as Shinjo in the northeast; Niigata along the Sea of Japan coast; and Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. It also services main tourist destinations like Kyoto, Hiroshima and the southern island of Kyushu.

But hang onto your hat: The bullet train travels at speeds of up to 180 mph -- though you'd never know it. "Unlike Amtrak, where you can feel the tracks underneath, [the bullet train] is a very smooth ride," says Marian Goldberg of the Japan National Tourist Organization. So fast, indeed, that if another train is passing Mount Fuji on parallel tracks, by the time the second train has vanished, so has the mountain.

For longer stays, the Japan Rail Pass includes seven, 14 and 21 days of unlimited rail travel anywhere in the country. The pass, from $264, is available only to foreigners and must be purchased before arriving in Japan. Regional lines, such as Hokkaido and Eastern Japan, also offer passes that can be bought in advance at a JR outlet in the United States (as well as in Japan). Info: 212-332-8686, www.japanrail.com.

For single rides, you can book any Shinkansen seats up to one month ahead through JR East's online service; tickets must be claimed in Tokyo, at any of the city's JR East outlets. (For west or central routes, where a Tokyo pick-up is inconvenient, you can buy at the specific station, and with frequent train departures, you won't be wanting for a seat.) For booking, see www.world.eki-net.com.

I'm planning a visit to Accra, Ghana, and would like information about hotels and sightseeing.

Jamaal Jones


Accra, the capital of Ghana, is a modern, cosmopolitan city, but not to the exclusion of tradition -- or the country's laid-back nature. The Makola Market, a local favorite, is stocked with fabrics, food, beads, baskets, etc., and is so large it spills into the streets. For a tamer shopping experience, the Art Centre rents booths to artisans who sell masks, jewelry, drums and other crafts. The National Museum houses art, ethnography and archaeology collections, and the DuBois Memorial Center honors the scholar's life and works.

You can also visit the mausoleum of Kwame Nkrumah, the country's first president, and monuments to African freedom in Independence Square. Nkrumah Circle is crawling with nightlife, and the Osu neighborhood, where the American Embassy is located, is packed with clubs, restaurants and upscale, ex-pat shops.

Hotel choices are plenty. The elegant La Palm Royal Beach Hotel (011-233-21-781621, www.gbhghana.com/lapalm.html) is considered the country's top property, with doubles from $200; for slightly less, Novotel (011-233-21-667546, www.novotel.com) has rooms from $115. And just outside the city, in the fishing village of Nungua, Bostonian Ellie Schimelman runs Aba House, with rooms and breakfast for $20 a night. Her travel company, Aba Tours, also organizes workshops in which guests can learn a metier from African artists. For example, a puppet-making workshop on Aug. 4-17 costs $600 per person double, including room, board and materials. Info: 617-277-0482, www.abatours.com.

For general info on visiting Ghana: www.ghanatourism.gov.gh. We'll be traveling to Paris and want to know if there are museum passes and where we can buy museum tickets in advance?

Joanne Levine


The Paris Museum Pass provides access to 70 museums and monuments, including such heavy hitters as the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay, for one (about $25), three ($52) or five ($83) consecutive days. The pass offers unlimited entry and lets holders skip the down-the-boulevard lines. It is sold at U.S. travel agencies, Paris's public transportation stations, participating sights, the Paris visitors bureau and other locations, and through such ticket purveyors as Ticket To . . . (212-529-9069, www.ticketsto.com).

Many individual institutions also sell tickets in advance (check their Web sites for details). The Louvre, for example, offers full and reduced tickets online at www.louvre.fr. The Pompidou Centre (www.cnac-gp.fr) sells a one-day pass (about $23) that can be ordered and printed online. As for the Erotic Art Museum -- well, you can probably walk right in.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com), fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071).

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