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Making the Belgrade

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 2, 2006

Q. I will be attending classes in Belgrade. What destinations outside of the city should I see?

Jodi Winship, Arlington

With its cafes, nightclubs and 7,000-year-old history, the Serbian capital never sleeps. But for a break from urban life, just follow the Danube. "There is plenty to see in Belgrade," says Kathy Kutrubes, who runs Kutrubes Travel (800-878-8566, http://www.kutrubestravel.com/ ), a Boston travel agency specializing in the Balkans. "Outside is more of a rural atmosphere."

One of Serbia's best-known destinations is Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina province that sits on the river and is crammed with attractions, such as the Petrovardin fortress. Near the city lies Fruska Gora, a national park lush with orchids and linden trees, as well as boars and lynx. Also stop by Sremski Karlovi, home of the 18th-century Grammar School and the art-filled Orthodox Church.

Grab a meal at a salas, wealthy estates offering food, lodging, music and more. "Spending time on salas (one of them is Salas 84) is a unique experience," Serbian Embassy spokeswoman Jelena Cukic Matic said by e-mail, "and worth keeping your stomach empty during the day."

Belgrade has a beach on an artificial lake, but for wild water, go rafting down the Ibar River, which streams past the medieval city of Maglic. If "Black Beauty" is more your scene, the 227-year-old Zobnatica horse farm offers forest rides and the Museum of Horse Breeding. Fifty miles south of Belgrade is Topola, whose distractions include the prehistoric Risovaca cave; the Park of Bukovicka Banja and its sculpture garden; and the village of Orasac, which honors the first Serbian uprising against the Turks. When it's meal time, pair such specialties as Karadjordje's steak (stuffed and fried pork or veal) with local wine: The Oplenac Wine Route features wines that have been compared with French vintages.

For more quietude than cocktails, overnight at a monastery, such as Soko Grad. Find more holy centers in Kraljevo, including the UNESCO-protected Studenica. The region also touts earthly retreats: The Vrnjacka spa, for instance, is Serbia's largest modern spa, with mineral springs and treatments.

Info: Embassy of the Republic of Serbia/ National Tourism Organization of Serbia, 202-332-0333, http://www.yuembusa.org/eng%20.

My wife and I, both 60, would like to visit the Galapagos. What's the most comfortable way to visit the islands?

Larry Manchio, Columbia

When it comes to touring the Galapagos Islands, even the least fit can survive. "A lot of people have this concern that it will be strenuous," says Jim Lutz, president of Vaya Adventures (800-342-1796, http://www.vayaadventures.com/ ), a San Francisco travel agency that organizes Galapagos tours. "But the reality is: The itineraries are not physically demanding."

The most common way to explore the islands is by boat, with daily hikes. Lutz says the two-a-day walks, which average one or two miles per visit, are easy and leisurely. Visitors island-hop by panga, and Lutz says if you can get in and out of a car then you're mobile enough for the inflatable boats.

The biggest discomfort might be the sleeping accommodations. Many of the schooner-style and sailing vessels have small cabins with narrow bunk beds. For better rest, look for ships with lower twin berths or double beds. Also, power boats are usually more capacious than sailing vessels, with wider deck space and more amenities. Lutz recommends the Eric/Flamingo/Letty sister ships, which measure 80 feet, and, on the higher end, the 210-foot Eclipse and the 125-foot Parranda, which has stabilizers to help avoid seasickness. For calmer seas, travel January to March, when the water is flat and the weather is hot and sunny, with sporadic downpours that cool the air.

Another option: Stay in a hotel on one of the four islands that provide lodging, then take day excursions. Santa Cruz is the most developed island, with restaurants, bars and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Discover Galapagos (403-760-3565, http://www.discovergalapagos.com/ ), for example, has a seven-night package to Finch Bay Resort that includes lodging, meals, four daily trips, etc.; cost is $1,759 per person double.

Do London taxis take U.S. credit cards?

R. Behr, Gaithersburg

London taxis have entered the plastic cash age. "London is starting to get the credit card system," says Visit Britain spokeswoman Joanna Allen. "It's not like San Francisco, but it's developing." Allen says that the taxis, such as the ubiquitous London Black Cabs, will advertise their credit card capabilities on their exteriors. Most major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, etc.) are accepted. The downside: You may be socked with additional service and/or transaction fees. For private hire operators, see the Transport for London's Public Carriage Office ( http://www.tfl.gov.uk/pco ). Under "Cabs" and "Find a Ride," plug in a borough and a list of companies pops up with their payment details.

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