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MESSAGE CENTER

Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page P07

French Barges

YOUR COMMENTS about "skippering a cabin cruiser" through the canals of France and "cooking your own meals" made a self-drive canal trip seem much more difficult than it really is [Travel Q&A, Dec. 5]. We rented a small barge (penichette) from Locaboat Plaisance a few years ago. Anyone with even the smallest experience with boating can pilot one of these barges.

They have only one speed -- slow -- and two gear settings, forward and reverse. Traffic on the canals is leisurely as you are stopped every couple of miles by locks, and learning their idiosyncracies is part of the fun.

Although you will not be served the sumputous meals found on the pricey cruises you mentioned, equally delectable prepared food and wine can be purchased at the many delightful French villages you will visit -- or you can opt for a restaurant.

It is almost never necessary to cook. But what could be better than shopping for fresh croissants and making your own pot of coffee to enjoy in the morning?

Lolli Sherry

Chestertown, Md.

Not So Super Shuttle

REGARDING THE letter in the Dec. 5 Message Center on the reliability of SuperShuttle, this was not my experience the one time I tried it. I was to be picked up at 8:30 a.m. in Reston for a 10 or 10:30 a.m. flight from Reagan National. At 8:28 I received a call telling me that no driver was available and I would have to get to the airport on my own. It was too late to call a taxi, so I drove and parked in the closest lot, at considerable expense.

After my trip I called customer service. They agreed to reimburse me for the difference between what the shuttle would have cost and my parking fee, and they sent a $2 coupon good toward my next trip, which I expect I will never use.

Alice Markham

Reston

ATM Tip

YOUR ARTICLE on "25 Ways to Make Your Next Flight Easier" [Nov. 28] was helpful. Here's another tip: When using ATM machines in Europe, remember to use commas and periods appropriately.

On a recent stay in Italy, my husband and I went to an ATM in Florence to withdraw 300 euros. He automatically typed in "300." (with a period), forgetting that in euros it should be "300," (with a comma instead of a period). In this country, of course, software automatically adds the two needed zeros after a period (300.00 = three hundred dollars). For euros, there are three zeros after a period (300.000 = three hundred thousand euros). So the ATM assumed my husband was trying to withdraw 300,000 euros.

As any attempt to withdraw such a ridiculous amount results in the assumption that the card is stolen, my husband's card was immediately rendered unusable.

A couple of calls to our bank the next morning took care of the problem. But for that one evening, we had to find an American Express office and get a cash advance.

Alice Martin Atalla

Annandale

Cruise Tips

WE HAVE just paid for our 39th cruise. Three suggestions for future and/or repeat cruisers:

• Freestyle or anytime dining: Go late. It is our experience that a majority of people crowd the early seating and then have to wait.

• If you despise rude kids, rude parents and rude grandparents, never cruise on holidays, especially Christmas and New Year's.

• Disney cruises are great. There are kids' places only, and adults' places only. Makes for a great cruise for everyone.

Kenneth L. Denton

Woodbridge

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