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Arming yourself for island adventure

Q: My wife and I are interested in hiking on the island of Spitsbergen this summer. Can you tell me where I can obtain information?

A: Tourism in Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard group, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, is subject to regulations intended to protect its natural environment.

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More than 50 percent of the islands, over which Norway has sovereignty, consists of protected nature reserves, national parks, bird sanctuaries and vegetation areas. Adventure trips, nature tours and hiking are all available.

The governor of the islands is Svalbard's highest authority, and it is to the governor that tour groups have to report their programs each season. They also have to take out insurance to cover rescue operations and other emergency eventualities.

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Independent travelers must also report directly to the governor if they intend to visit national parks and wildlife reserves, although Norway recommends that travelers sign up for a group tour rather than try to tackle the islands alone.

And this probably explains why: According to the Norwegian authorities it is possible to come face to face with a polar bear anywhere in Svalbard, even in the summer, and the bears have attacked people. They recommend that independent visitors carry a weapon on all trips outside Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen's capital. They even specify the caliber: 7.62 millimeters or above, adding that guns can be rented and a license issued locally.

For detailed information on hiking, contact Info Svalbard, P.O. Box 323, 9170 Svalbard, Norway; (47 79) 02 33 03, fax (47 79) 02 10 20. For general information on Spitsbergen and the rest of Svalbard, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board, 655 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017; (212) 949-2333, fax (212) 983-5260.

The following offer group tours:

* Mountain Travel-Sobek, 6420 Fairmount Ave., El Cerrito, Calif. 94530, (800) 227-2384 or (510) 527-8100. A 15-day circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, with two landings a day, is being offered July 7 from $4,995 a person for a double cabin with a sink.

* Borton Overseas, 5516 Lindale Ave. South, Minneapolis, Minn. 55419, (800) 843-0602 or (612) 824-4415, is offering a 12-day ship and land trip to Spitsbergen for experienced hikers. It costs $2,330 a person for three people in a cabin and two people in a tent. Departures are July 3, 17 and 31 and Aug. 14.

* Eurocruises, 303 W. 13th St., New York, N.Y. 10014, (800) 688-3876 or (212) 691-2099, has two programs: an eight-day Spitsbergen cruise for $3,395 a person in double occupancy, leaving every Saturday from June 24 to Aug. 19, and a five-day cruise at $1,960 a person. The five-day departures are Monday and Thursday from June 15 to Aug. 24.

Q: I expect to be in Cairo in late March. I would like to visit the St. Catherine monastery in the Sinai. Is this possible?

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A: Probably the most convenient way of getting to the 6th-century monastery is to fly to Sharm el Sheik in the south Sinai Peninsula, and take a bus from there.

Flights to Sharm el Sheik, which has been developed as a major Red Sea beach resort, leave Tuesday to Sunday on Egyptair and Monday on Air Sinai.

From March 4 flights will leave Cairo at 6:45 a.m., arriving at 7:30 a.m. On the return trip flights leave at 8 a.m., arriving at 8:45 a.m. Fares are $96 one way, $192 round trip. Buses to St. Catherine's, three hours away by road, leave Sharm el Sheik at 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., returning at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The fare is about $5.

Sharm el Sheik has about 40 hotels to choose from in a wide range of prices. If you decide to stay overnight near the monastery, there are at least four hotels, ranging from $121 for a double at St. Catherine Tourist Village, Wadi El Raha, St. Catherine, Egypt, (20 62) 770456, fax (20 62) 770221, to $21.50 at El Salam Hotel, St. Catherine Airport, St. Catherine, Egypt, (20 62) 771409, fax (20 2) 2476535. Rates are calculated at 3.4 Egyptian pounds to the dollar.

Information: Egyptian Tourist Authority, 630 Fifth Ave., Suite 1706, New York, N.Y. 10111; (212) 332-2570, fax (212) 956-6439.

Q: Are there any opera performances at La Scala in May and June? And are there any performances in Venice then?

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A: There are a number of performances in both cities, with La Scala in Milan leading the way with "The Damnation of Faust," "La Traviata," "Falstaff" and "Les Contes d'Hoffman."

"Faust," by Berlioz, will be performed from May 11 to 14 and May 16, 17 and 19. Seiji Ozawa will conduct with Jose van Dam and Frederica von Stade in the principal roles.

"La Traviata," by Verdi, on May 26, 28 and 31 and June 2, will be conducted by Riccardo Muti, with Ramon Vargas.

"Falstaff," by Verdi, on June 11, 13, 15, 17 and 19, will be conducted by Mr. Muti, with Daniela Dessi and Ramon Vargas.

"Hoffmann," by Jacques Offenbach, will be performed June 26, 28 and 30 and July 1, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 12. The conductor will be Riccardo Chailly, with Samuel Ramey and Neil Shicoff.

Tickets can be ordered by mail (limit of two per performance) from Teatro alla Scala, Ufficio Biglietteria, 2 Via Filodrammatici, 20121 Milan, Italy, or by fax, (39 2) 877996, at least a month before the performance. Bookings will be confirmed by phone or fax.

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Tickets are also available at the ticket office at 2 Via Filodrammatici; (39 2) 72003744. Tickets may be paid in lira or by credit card. Seats cost from $12.40 to $99, calculated at 1,618 lire to the dollar. Standing-room tickets, sold only on the day of performance, are $6.

La Fenice in Venice is offering less traditional fare: May 3, 5 and 6 "Le Martyre de St. Sebastien," by Debussy, will be conducted by Marc Soustrot, with Kader Belarbi and Michel Albertini.

From May 23 to 26 and May 27 and 28, "Erwartung," by Schoenberg, and "Bluebeard's Castle," by Bartok, will be performed with Eva Marton. The conductor will be Isaac Karabtchevsky.

On June 18, 21, 24, 27 and 29 "The Flying Dutchman," by Wagner, will be conducted by Marek Janowski, with Bernd Weikl and Gabriela Benackova.

Tickets, from $18.50 to $115, can be ordered by fax, (39 41) 5221768, or at the ticket office: Biglietteria del Teatro La Fenice, San Marco 1965.


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