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MESSAGE CENTER

Sunday, October 31, 2004; Page P04

Spooky New Orleans

WILLIAM TRIPLETT did a nice job evoking the spooky party atmosphere that abounds in New Orleans at Halloween ["Spooky. Silly. Sweet!", Oct. 24], but I wanted to clarify a few items.

He says that the "city's mud foundations make below-ground burial impossible"; this is not totally accurate. The very high water table means that any graves dug in the ground quickly fill with water; the only way to get a coffin to stay down is to drill holes in it and let it fill with water as well. This is the main reason many choose to inter bodies in crypts or mausoleums.

Also, do not explore the cemeteries on your own, since many, including the most famous, St. Louis No. 1, are in or near bad neighborhoods. Several groups lead tours, including Save Our Cemeteries.

Finally, allow me to add a few more restaurant recommendations, all walkable from the St. Charles streetcar:

• Jacque-Imo's on Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood serves amazing Cajun, Creole and southern favorites like gumbo and fried green tomatoes in a fun, funky atmosphere.

• Brigsten's on Dante Street near the Riverbend is a contender for the best meal in New Orleans. Try the sweetbreads appetizer and whatever the Gulf fish of the day is.

• Herbsaint on St. Charles at Girod in the Arts District is a casually sophisticated bistro serving French/European dishes featuring local ingredients.

Ellen Hatton

Washington, D.C.

Q&A and You

HAWAII IS absolutely safe, and there is extremely little chance of an eruption on the Big Island that would affect one's vacation. Contrary to the tone of the answer in the Oct. 24 Travel Q&A column, Hawaiian volcanos do not "blow," and mentioning Mount St. Helens and Mount Etna is an inaccurate comparison. Also, after stating that the chances of a sudden eruption was slim, you went on to imply that tourist centers are not "safe bets."

There was no reason to sensationalize the facts and make travelers anxious about a vacation on the Big Island. For example, a single instance of quick-moving lava is not indicative of the usual lava flow.

Dan Brooks

Alexandria

BRAVISSIMA for your sage advice to the reader who was considering taking her daughter to London, Paris and Tuscany in one week [Travel Q&A, Oct. 24]. Better to sample one country well than three poorly.

Let me offer three alternatives to the many fine ones you presented. First, Florence is a gem of a base for visiting Tuscany. Fly into Florence's close-in airport rather than into Rome. From Dulles, the easiest way is to fly Alitalia into Milan and then fly to Florence. Alitalia, through its vacation-planning arm (www.italiatourusa.com), offers deals for hotel and air, as well as day trip excursions by bus/rail from Florence to Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa..

Second, consider a Florence-London combination through British Airways, which offers a free stopover in London en route to or from Florence.

Third, London-Paris is an easy combination via Eurostar's high-speed service between the two. To maximize your free time, fly into one city and out of the other rather than taking the train twice.

John Flood

Vienna

Good Airline Story

I BOOKED a round-trip flight to Boston on Independence Air. Paid for it with my credit card and printed out the itinerary. Reviewing it, I was horrified to see that the return date was not the one I thought I had selected, but the following day -- not an alternative. I called them immediately and was thoroughly surprised when they very graciously refunded the entire fare to my card, with no penalty.

I like to say thanks when I receive good treatment and not only complain about bad treatment.

Sylvia S. Gordon

Alexandria

Free-Style Dining, Cont'd

A NORWEGIAN Cruise Line cruise to Canada from Baltimore last October had the same rush after 5 p.m. for dinner, causing long lines [Message Center, Oct. 17]. The other negatives to free-style dining are the wait for the table to fill up at larger tables and never having the same waitstaff. I like to have iced tea each night, and my needs are taken care of with fixed seating. On Norwegian, it was a struggle to get the tea each night.

It will be a long while before we cruise again with NCL because of their free-style dining.

Dave Critchley

Manassas

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