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Ask T+L: The Poles, New England Fly-Fishing

North and South Poles...New England fly-fishing...Safety in Croatia...Chinese arts and cuisine tour

q. I want to visit both poles before I die. Is it possible to get to them by plane or helicopter?--C.L.D., Sedona, Ariz.
a. There's no such thing as a quick flight; fewer than 40 people a year travel to the South Pole due to the arduousness of the journey. Several cruise lines sail to Antarctica, but only one company lands aircraft on the continent. Based in England, Adventure Network International (44-1494/671-808, fax 44-1494/671-725) leads 14-day South Pole expeditions from Chile's Punta Arenas for $25,000 per person. Getting to the North Pole is a bit simpler -- it's a popular destination for adventure cruises. The Murmansk Shipping Co.'s nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal sails to the top of the world this July; passengers explore the islands of Russia's Franz Josef Land and Svalbard by helicopter, and have a barbecue at the pole (Quark Expeditions, 800/356-5699; from $14,950 per person for the 14-day trip).

q. I'm looking for a top-notch fly-fishing resort in New England. Any suggestions?--W.B., Richmond, Va.
a. The Orvis Fly-Fishing School in Manchester, Vermont (800/235-9763; $345 for a two-day course), is a great place to get your feet wet -- few schools can claim such beautiful views and first-rate angling. Students learn casting techniques, knot-tying methods, and how to "read" the water on the Battenkill River. Lodging is by arrangement with local hotels, such as the acclaimed Inn at Willow Pond, a converted 1770's dairy farm (802/362-4733; doubles from $178). In Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, the 15,000-acre Balsams Grand Resort Hotel (603/255-3400; $384 per person for a two-day package) offers fly-fishing with luxury; golf and wine tastings complement the water activities. Its 16 hours of angling workshops conclude with a class on preparing and serving your catch.

q. How safe is Croatia?Before the war, we very much enjoyed our travels there; we want to go back. --N.O., Orlando, Fla.
a. The country is safe. The 1995 Dayton and Erdut peace agreements ended fighting in the country; at present, there are no travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department. Tourism has increased dramatically since late 1996 (an estimated 6 million people visited there in 1998, a rise of 18 percent over the previous year). Major cruise ships, including those from Cunard, Silversea, and Holland America Line, now stop at ports on the Croatian coast. For information on hotels, resorts, and more than 30 tour operators, call the Croatian tourist office at 888/462-7628 or 973/428-0707.

q. Can you recommend a great tour company for a group of us who want to visit China?We're especially interested in arts and cuisine. --E.R., West Chester, Pa.
a. Absolute Asia (800/736-8187) is offering a new 12-day culinary tour of Beijing, Xian, Guilin, and Shanghai this year, featuring meals at private houses, cooking demonstrations, market tours, and a hands-on cooking class. One exceptional highlight is the excursion to Suzhou, a town with more than 150 gardens and the National Embroidery Institute (from $3,800 per person, exclusive of international airfare). The Sierra Club (415/977-5630) has scheduled a 21-day itinerary beginning September 20 called "Across China on the Silk Road"; along the way, the group will explore Heaven Lake, the Magao Grottoes (the oldest Buddhist shrines in China), and the medieval market at Kashgar. The trip ends with a formal "court cuisine" farewell banquet of traditional dishes from the Ming and Qing dynasties (from $3,295, not including international airfare). "Sacred Mountains and Temples: A Taoist Tour of China," Northwest China Council's 23-day tour (503/973-5451), is quite comprehensive. Led by Taoism scholars and university professors, travelers visit monasteries, tea gardens, sacred waterfalls, and Shanghai's famed museum (from $3,900 per person, including airfare from Portland, Oregon).

E-mail your questions, or mail them to: Ask T&L, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, 10th floor, New York, NY 10036. We regret that questions can be answered only in the column.

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