Adam Ebbin, Alexandria
A. You could easily spend some serious cash wandering through Roman, Milanese and Florentine boutiques. But to be kind to your wallet, window-shop in town -- then head to the nearest outlet for some bargains on designer duds.
A member of the American Society of Travel Agents, Walking Tours of Florence (011-39-055-264-5033, http://www.italy.artviva.com/ ) can ship you to the nearest outlet area (known as the Mall), which is about 45 minutes from central Florence. The daily tours, offered at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (no morning option on Sundays), include a minivan ride and three hours of shopping time; sadly, those Ermenegildo Zegna purchases aren't included in the $45 ticket. If that's not enough time to search for bargains from Salvatore Ferragamo and other designers, you can blow some of the money you'll save by shopping on a private tour. Walking Tours manager Angie Delima says they run about $380 on up, "depending on the query, how many stopovers [and] the number of people in the private car." Booking ahead is recommended for both options.
McArthurGlen ( http://www.mcarthurglen.it/ ), a designer outlet group, offers 30 percent to 70 percent discounts on major brands. It has locations in Serravalle, an hour's drive south of Milan (where the wares by Diesel and Versace, etc., are presented in a fake 18th-century Ligurian town center), and Castel Romano, nine miles south of Rome (for shopping in a faux Imperial Roman atmosphere). The newest Italian location, Barberino, opened in March about 15 miles north of Florence.
Another option is an outlet 31 miles from Milan in Mendrisio, Switzerland. Foxtown ( http://www.foxtown.ch/ ) carries Armani Le Collezioni menswear and Missoni for both men and women, among hundreds of other lines.
Primeitaly.com ( http://www.primeitaly.com/ ), a travel site about all things Italian, offers lists of outlets throughout the country, plus information on contacting personal shoppers who might have an insider scoop. For general information on Italy: Italian Government Tourist Board, 212-245-5618, http://www.italiantourism.com/ .
I need a safe, well-located hotel in Shanghai for early October for $150 to $200 a night. Any suggestions?
Patricia Dodson, Chicago
When looking for a hotel, keep in mind that the historic city, the Shanghai museum, the French Concession and most other tourist sites are in Puxi, on the west side of the Pujiang River. The new skyscrapers and financial hub of the city are in Pudong.
Shanghai hotels run the gamut, including old standbys like the Peace Hotel (011-86-21-63-21-6888, http://www./ http://shanghaipeacehotel.com/ ; double rooms from $100; also listed on http://www.hotel-rates.com/ ), with its storied history and amazing location straddling Nanjing Lu on the Bund (the city's waterfront promenade and historic area). On the other end of the spectrum is the Shanghai Grand Hyatt ( http://www.shanghai.grand.hyatt.com/ ; rooms from $300), in the Jin Mao tower, with a giant's view of the Bund from the Pudong side. But unless you find a great Web deal or have a travel agent, the latter isn't an option (you can still snag the view by springing for drinks at one of the hotel's bars).
If you like wooden floorboards, meandering hallways and the cachet of staying where Charlie Chaplin crashed, try the Pujiang Hotel. About a half-mile along the Bund from the Peace, it's across from the Russian consulate. Like the Peace, it has a long history in this ever-changing city; since opening in 1856 it's been known as the Richards Hotel, the Astor House Hotel and the Pujiang, and in recent years has vacillated between the last two names. Info: 011-86-21-63-24-6388; book through either http://www.astorhousehotel.com/ or http://www.pujianghotel.com/ . At press time, available rooms that fit your criteria ranged from a standard twin ($65, including breakfast) to a deluxe king room for $135, plus the 10 percent booking fee.
For more Shanghai info: Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administrative Commission ( http://lyw.sh.gov.con/en ) or the China National Tourist Office (888-760-8218, http://www.cnto.org/ ).
David Kelly of Chevy Chase has a suggestion for exploring Chicago's architectural scene (July 23). He says that "one great way to learn about Chicago's buildings is on a river tour," and notes that several operators offer guided boat tours, including Shoreline Sightseeing (312-222-9328, http://www.shorelinesightseeing.com/ ) and Wendella's Boats (312-337-1446, http://www.wendellaboats.com/ ).
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