TRAVEL Q&A

License to Drive . . . Italy

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006

Q. We'll be renting a car in Rome this summer. Is an International Driving Permit necessary?

A. Denette, Arlington

A. When driving abroad, even if you know that one kilometer equals 0.62 miles, you still might need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Unlike a driver's license, which proves that you're a valid driver, the IDP is a multilingual card that translates your pertinent driving information into various languages, such as French, German, Italian and Spanish. The card costs $10 through AAA (you don't need to be a member to get one), is valid for a year and is accepted worldwide. In addition, in some countries, such as Portugal, you cannot rent a car without one. (Italy simply requires a license with an "Italian translation or declaration," which the IDP satisfies.) Whether or not it's the law, though, AAA spokeswoman Janie Graziani says, "It's the smart thing to do." Plus, you can use it as backup photo ID.

So when can you skip the IDP? In countries that recognize U.S. driver's licenses, such as Norway, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. However, if you plan to drive across borders, you might want to spring for the permit. Also, before you depart, check out the individual country's specific driving requirements, as the IDP may not be enough. In Saudi Arabia, for example, Americans must have their IDP stamped upon arrival and must be male (no women drivers allowed on public roads). Your local AAA bureau has a list of each country's rules. If you are not the sole driver on your trip, the other members of your group also should acquire an IDP.

Info: AAA Mid-Atlantic, 800-436-4222, http://www.aaamidatlantic.com/ .

I will be traveling to Zurich and would like to visit a watch company. Any suggestions?

Michael G. McMillian, Alexandria

Switzerland is the father of time . . . pieces. Since the 16th century, the country has been making clocks for towers, walls and tables, as well as high-quality watches often found on the wrists of discerning consumers.

Zurich does not have any operational watch companies you can visit, but the pedestrian shopping strip of Bahnhofstrasse sells timepieces by such Swiss stalwarts as Omega, Tag Heuer and Swatch. For the most ticktock activity, you'll need to travel to Watch Valley ( http://www.watchvalley.ch/ ), the area between Basel and Geneva that is considered the "capital of the Swiss watchmaking tradition."

The valley's Watchmaking Route connects five regions -- Vallee de Joux and the Jura Vaudois, the Neuchatel region, Bienne-Seeland, the Jura Bernois and the canton of Jura -- and 23 attractions related to timepieces. The Historical Museum of Basel, for example, displays carriage clocks, enameled gold watches and other objects made in Basel. Nearby, the Musee de L'Hotel-Dieu, housed in a baroque hospital, exhibits a collection from the Juillard SA factory as well as a reconstructed gem-drilling workshop. Farther south, the Watchmaking Space in Le Sentier uses 16th- to 19th-century artifacts to explain the area's watchmaking achievements.

For specific watch companies, the Le Brassus headquarters of Audemars Piguet includes a museum as well as jewelry, engineering and watchmaking workshops and a retail store (call to schedule a tour; 011-4121-845-1400, http://www.audemarspiguet.com/ ). Omega in Bienne ( http://www.omegawatches.com/index.php?id=249 ) and Patek Philippe in Geneva ( http://www.patekmuseum.com/ ) also have museums, but you won't see actual watchmaking, just the finished product. International Watch ( http://https://www.iwc.ch//index.asp ) has tours of its facility in Schaffhausen, a village on the German border.

For more information on Switzerland and watches: Switzerland Tourism, 877-794-8037, http://www.myswitzerland.com/ ; Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, http://www.fhs.ch/en .

My wife and I are going to Hawaii and will spend a night in Los Angeles en route. Is there a place to store our luggage at the airport for a night?

John Vittone, Silver Spring

Los Angeles airport no longer has baggage lockers or storage facilities. However, a few companies will pick up your bags, store them overnight in an off-airport space and then deliver them to the airport before your flight. AeroEx (310-420-7111), for example, charges $10 to $20 per bag per day (price varies according to size), and MBI Enterprises (310-646-7460) quotes prices of $5 to $7 per bag per day, plus $10 for pickup and another $10 for delivery.

Unfortunately you can't check your bags through the airline overnight, as check-in times rarely exceed several hours.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com), fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include name and town.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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