I WAS PLEASED and excited to see your recent article on Kyoto ["Guides and Guidance in Kyoto," Jan. 6]. My wife and I spent a wonderful five days in the city last spring and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about historical Japan.
However, I would strongly discourage travelers from spending $350 for a guided tour of the city. There are numerous guides to the city that include walking tours and that can be combined for a day-long adventure. In particular, "Kyoto: Seven Paths to the Heart of the City" by Diane Durston and the Kyoto section of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Japan were invaluable (both are readily available on Amazon.com).
As the author knows, Japan is not an inexpensive nation to visit. Doing a little bit of research prior to his arrival would have saved him several hundred dollars while simultaneously educating him about this fascinating city and its many important sites.
WE STRONGLY disagree with Tom Boyle's conclusion [Message Center, Dec. 30] that the cruise ship Explorer sank because of "inexperience" and "lack of safety" in the Antarctic Ocean. He compared his experience on an LST [a military cargo vessel] with the operation of a ship that was designed from the bottom up to carry passengers in the Antarctic.
We sailed up the Amazon from Manaus, Brazil, to Iquitos, Peru, a 10-day journey on the Explorer. We were told that the Explorer had been designed to deal with underwater hazards such as ice and in our case semi-submerged logs in the river. Thus, we were not alarmed when we heard the hull striking the logs as we moved upstream.
The crew held safety drills and checked passengers for properly buckled life vests every time we went ashore in Zodiacs from offshore anchorage. The engine room was shipshape. Any sailor would be pleased with the maintenance that went on continually. Perhaps that kind of care and attention to safety was one of the reasons that there were no casualties when the Explorer went down. In our view the ship's company and the GAP personnel did a great job.
Jack and Jane Kalish
Flying in Style
WE RECENTLY returned from an eight-day trip to Europe with two nights each in Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. It was my first time to Europe, so even though it was hurried and we lived out of our suitcases, it was wonderful. We flew United over (nothing special), but on the way back from Vienna to Dulles we flew on Austrian Air and felt as if we were in first class. Wonderful service. They were up and down the aisles, always offering us something. Had a nice meal at lunch and then smoked salmon later. Why can't the U.S. airlines provide service like Austrian Air?
Diane B. Cvitko
Write us: Washington Post Travel section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Fax: 202-912-3609. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Provide your full name, town of residence and daytime telephone number. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity.