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French Say Monoliths Off-Limits to Visitors

NEWS AND BRIEFS

August 25, 1991|KIM UPTON

For the first time, visitors to the Stone Age monuments at Carnac, France, may no longer wander at will among the hundreds of monoliths called Kermario, which were built about the same time as Britain's Stonehenge--and whose origins and purpose are equally mysterious. Writer Christopher Kenneally reports from France that a new fence and viewing stand, constructed to protect the stones from visitors, have set off a storm of controversy among local officials, some who favor it and others who fear the new construction is foreboding and will harm tourism.

Archeologists say that visitors, who until recently enjoyed tramping around the stone groups and were free to climb them, have worn away the soil at Kermario and weakened the stones' rooting in the ground. Many of the monuments--some 10 feet high and more--are said to be in danger of falling over.

Tourists will not be allowed beyond the new barricade for up to seven years while the government and scientists consider other ways of protecting the monuments, which officials say may or may not include the fence and viewing stand.

Travel Quiz: How many countries extend north of the Arctic Circle and which ones are they?

Bidding Farewell: A San Francisco company has created a computer system called Bookit! that allows travelers to bid for low prices on airline tickets. Under the Bookit! system, customers fill out forms specifying travel plans and the amount they wish to pay. The company then offers the orders to airlines and their intermediaries, such as consolidators. Company officials, who claim to be breaking new ground with the system, say it works best on orders that are made far in advance, do not specify carrier, offer a window of travel times and ask for "realistic" discounts. What qualifies as realistic?

"If, 14 days before a trip, you want to bid a 21-day advance fare, that's an excellent bid because we know that the company has offered that fare recently," said Eric Martinez of Marketel International Inc., which operates Bookit! Requests for $100 round trips to London are pointless. Carriers participate in the program because they want to make a profit and that profitability can be changed by the filling of one or two previously empty seats, Martinez said. Cost to the consumer, over and above the ticket price, is $16--or less if there are other passengers on the same order.

Quick Fact: Change since 1986 in number of hotel rooms and resort condominiums in Hawaii: 9% increase. Change in number of airline seats available to get there from the mainland: a decrease of 8.4%. (Source: Travel Weekly.)

Amazing Mazes: This year has been proclaimed the Year of the Maze in Britain, and to celebrate, more than a dozen of the huge outdoor puzzles have opened in a variety of settings, bringing the number in Britain to nearly 100.

Mazes are typically human-size alleys in which people start at one end and attempt to find their way to the other end through confusing configurations of hedges, walls and mirrors, such as the Tudor-style yew hedge maze at 13th-Century Hever Castle in southeast England. Or they may be huge outdoor puzzles made of mirrors, tile or wood, or small puzzles that are followed with the eye, rather than the body. Mazes are inexpensive entertainment and a draw in times of economic hardship; there has been a doubling of the puzzles in Britain since 1975.

Among the new puzzles are a maze of mirrors at Wookey Hole Caves in the Mendip Hills near Bath, and a brick path called Veronica's Maze at Parham, an Elizabethan stately home about 50 miles south of London. Another, in the seven-acre gardens of Merritown House in Dorset, has characters from Alice in Wonderland, which only seem right-side up if viewed from one place in the puzzle.

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The Year of the Maze was instituted by the Duke of Marlborough, who has a maze with wooden bridges and pavilions at his Blenheim Palace home near Oxford, which also happens to be the birthplace of Winston Churchill. In addition to the new mazes, a series of events celebrating the Year of the Maze include special maze tours, treasure hunts and festivals.

Uniform Chic: Alitalia flight and ground attendants have become particularly chic of late: They are now dressed in a new wardrobe created by top Italian designer Giorgio Armani, who beat out other Italian designers for the honor of refashioning the line. His designs--which include sleek, double-breasted blazers and slim skirts--were selected by a panel of Alitalia directors and flight attendants.

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