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Travel Q&A: African Safaris, World War I Battlefields

The best time to see wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania is July through September.
The best time to see wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania is July through September. (Tanzania Tourist Board)
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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Q. My wife and I are planning a safari in Africa for 2010. What is the best time of year to go to Kenya and Tanzania to maximize the chance to see a wide variety of animals while at the same time having the best chance for a moderate climate and minimal rain?

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Mike Whitehouse, Ashburn

A. Depends what you want to see, but July through September is a safe bet. That's roughly the time of the annual wildebeest-zebra migration from Tanzania's Serengeti National Park to Kenya's Masai Mara, when you're likely to see the widest variety of wildlife. Just be aware that prices and crowds are at their worst then, so book well in advance. Another good time to visit Kenya, especially for bird viewing, is January to March, before the big rainy season. For more on timing, the safari company Go2Africa has a good online guide at http://www.go2africa.com.

I would very much appreciate any suggestions regarding battlefield tours of World War I sites, such as Ypres and the Somme. Ideally, my daughter and I would like to take a train to a town near the sites and then have a guide take us on a one- or two-day tour of each site.

Paul J. Feldstein, Irvine, Calif.

A timely question, with Armistice Day approaching. (Indulge me; they still call it that in France and Belgium.) As world peace continues to elude our species, there's something almost unbearably poignant about visiting the battlefields of the 1914-18 conflict, where more than 15 million people perished in what everyone thought for sure was the War to End All Wars.

Three of the most important battlefield sites are Ypres (now referred to in Flemish as Ieper, pronounced YAY-per), about 1 1/2 hours west of Brussels in southwest Belgium; the Somme, about 1 1/2 hours south of Ieper in northern France; and the Meuse-Argonne, near Verdun, about 2 1/2 hours east of Paris. World War I tour operators abound in the area, and many will arrange custom visits. The Ieper Tourist Office (011-32-57-239-220, http://www.ieper.be) has a good list; click on "Guided Tours and Routes" from the menu on the left of the home page, then "Battlefield Tours With Guide."

John Bromage of France Custom Tours (011-33-2-31-10-07-93, http://www.francecustomtours.com) said a guide from his company can meet you at your hotel, airport or railway station with a driver and vehicle. The company will get as involved beforehand as you wish, assisting in booking hotels, buying rail tickets and arranging transfers, and can either provide maps and instructions for a self-guided tour or drive you to the sites. You might want to join a small group for the latter, though, as the daily cost for that runs about $660 for up to six people. That price includes the guide and vehicle, but not entrance fees, meals and accommodations.

Bromage said a good sample itinerary would be to fly into Brussels and depart from Paris, or vice versa, spending four days total and using the cities of Ieper and Amiens as your bases (two days in each city).

"There is so much to see and do in these two areas in terms of museums and sites," he wrote in an e-mail. A highlight for Americans, he said, is Verdun, near the site of the Meuse-Argonne American offensive. More than 1.2 million soldiers fought in that 47-day battle, including Capt. Harry Truman, Lt. Col. George Patton and Col. George Marshall. The largest number of American dead in Europe -- almost 15,000 -- are buried at the American cemetery there.

For more info on French and Belgian World War I sites: French Government Tourist Office, 514-288-1904, http://www.franceguide.com, or Visit Belgium, 212-758-8130, http://www.visitbelgium.com. And if you haven't read it already, be sure to seek out "Regeneration," Pat Barker's exceptionally insightful, well-researched and very moving novel about the psychological effects of World War I on soldiers and society. A film version, "Behind the Lines," is quite faithful to the book and is available on Netflix.

Your Turn

Claire Weaver of Springfield added a recommendation to our list of affordable restaurants in Williamsburg (Chat Plus, Sept. 27): Chez Trinh (157 Monticello Ave.), a Vietnamese place with "green beans to die for." And Jo Spiegelman of Derwood confirms that Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que is worth the trip ("and their unsweetened iced tea is the best I've had outside of my own") but notes that only the pork is pulled, not the chicken. The chicken is grilled.

Editor's Note: This is the last installment of Travel Q&A. Starting next week, it will be replaced by Going Our Way, a new column by K.C. Summers and Carol Sottili. For more information on Going Our Way, see the link in the "This Story" box above.



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