Talk About Travel
Monday, July 17, 2006; 2:00 PM
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Anne McDonough: Welcome, sweltering ones (and those suffering from super cold air conditioning overexposure). John Deiner, Gary Lee, Steve Hendrix, Carol Sottili and I, Anne McDonough, are all on board today. John's just back from Vegas, baby; Carol's chiming in fresh from Ocean City; Gary has returned from Louisville, K'y and is still floating from his Newport sailing experience written up in yesterday's section; Steve's almost recovered from his stint as a helper on a Europe-by-coach tour and I am just about over my sunburn (courtesy of the Jersey shore). We're here to field questions, but also to draw on your experiences to help the other travelers out there make their way through this wild world of ours, so come ready to share. And the poster with the most succinct, engaging story about their hottest (er, high temperature) travels wins...something...from our box o'junk. Let's go.
New York, NY: Hi There -- Several weeks ago, I noticed something about an airline offering flights between New York and DC for less than $50 each way, with plans to debut the special fare in the late summer/early fall. I have since forgotten the carrier and when the rates begin. Any thoughts? Thanks.
Carol Sottili: That was JetBlue. It begins Aug. 17 between JFK and Dulles. It's $50 each way at www.jetblue.com.
Washington DC: I want to go to Brazil for the carnival next year. I understand it's toward the end of February, but I'm not sure about the exact dates. Where can I find that out? Also, where are the biggest parades, in Rio or somewhere else? thanks
Gary Lee: Carnival officially starts Feb. 17 and goes on for about a week, but the main days are Mon-Tues following the 17th. If you're headed to Rio for that, start planning now. Airfares hit the roof unless you book very early.
Fairfax, Va: I loved yesterday's article about bus tours. As a kid my family used to take a two week vacation every year. We always spent the first week on an organized bus tour and every night we'd make a list of what we most enjoyed. On the last night of the tour we'd sit down with the guide and plot out our next week,using our list of places and experiences that we had only touched on during the tour. We never had a tour guide refuse to help us out in our planning and most were enthusiastic to lend a hand. It was a great way to travel, we got boatloads of information during that first week and then had the luxury of making our own fun the second week. I hope to travel in much the same way with my own kids.
Steve Hendrix: Wow, that is an admirably organized approach. So, after the tour broke up, you would actually double back and recover the same ground as a solo family? This trip would have been good for that; two nights in each city was too rushed for a nice immersive experience, but it was a perfect primer for future visits.
I'm not surprised to hear that the guides were willing to help. I think they LIVE to dispense thier knowledge.
washingtonpost.com: Charge of the Bus Brigade , (July 16, 2006)
Steve Hendrix: Here's a link to that Bus Tour story.
Washington DC: A friend of mine and I are trying to plan a trip to Budapest - dates are flexible, as we are trying to find an affordable time to go. We'd love to add on another city, but we've already been to Prague and Vienna (the two cities most attached to Budapest on travel sites). So my question is a two-parter - any advice on designing an affordable trip to the area and recommendation on adding an additional place to visit? Thanks!
Anne McDonough: How about exploring the rest of Hungary, since you've already been to Prague and Vienna? Eger's a cute wine town, for one, and very accessible from Budapest. Or how about Bratislava? Gary's always singing its praises (though I for one resent it just a tad for it being the site of my most expensive lodging--a $30 pension--on my last backpacking-through-Europe trip. Sigh).
Columbia, Md: Not my experience, but funniest hot weather story:
Several years ago, a relative was visiting Phoenix and flew out of BWI, so they stayed with us overnight before and after the trip. (They lived in PA.) After a week in Phoenix in July, he got off the plane and announced, "Don't let them tell you it's a dry heat! An OVEN is dry heat! It's still hot!"
Anne McDonough: It's true: When it's hot, it's hot, doesn't matter what kind!
bangalore, india: I am submitting ahead of time because of the 10.5 hour time difference. Anyway, I just returned home from my honeymoon in Italy... my husband and I live in Bangalore India. We flew Air France both to and from Italy.
I have been aware for some time of the significantly lowered baggage weight limit, but most airlines have not been terribly strict about it. And when we left India for Europe, nothing was said to us about the weight of our bags.
Coming back was an entirely different thing. We get to the Air France counter in Rome and the woman tells us we are overweight. I asked how much it was going to cost us, and she told us 360 EURO!!!!!! I nearly had a panic attack. We had not bought enough on the trip to cause that much of an overage.
Anyway, in addition to having to pay what I believe to be an OUTRAGEOUS sum (I paid only $120 dollars PER BAG over the 2 bag limit when I moved to India using British Airways), we had to get out of line and pay at a separate counter. We nearly missed our flight. The line behind us grew by the second, all Air France customers, all completely outraged at the blatant bilking.
I understand the need to have a weight limit for baggage, but the 50 pound limit is far too low. Additionally, to charge so much per pound over is absurd. Clearly they are just trying to get profit somewhere, but that is not the way to do it. I will never fly Air France again. Period. And I am a -very- frequent traveller.
Any ideas about who I can write to and what my chances are of getting though to someone at the airlines?
Carol Sottili: Whenever you have to deal with a international carrier, it gets tricky. Here's what Air France says on its U.S. Web site:
1st case: allowance by weight
The authorized weight is shown on your ticket or Trip Summary if you have an electronic ticket.
If you wish to transport baggage items that are heavier than the indicated weight, you must pay a supplement when you check in.
The maximum weight of each checked-in baggage item must not exceed 32 kg (whatever the allowance).
If you are a Flying Blue member, you can take advantage of an additional allowance as shown on your ticket:
+ 5 kg if you are a Flying Blue Silver member,
+10 kg if you are a Flying Blue Gold member,
+20 kg if you are a Flying Blue Platinum member,
As you can see, amount of money they'll charge for overweight bags is not stated.
AS for getting something out of them, if your ticket stated that you had a heavier allowance, then it's worth fighting. If not, I think you're out of luck.
Washington, D.C.: The hotel I want to stay at is booked for my dates. This is just based on Internet searches though- both the hotel's site and sites like Orbitz and Hotels.com. I plan on calling to see about getting on a wait list and to see if maybe they have unadvertised rooms available my dates offline. Are there any other tips/tricks to this? Mentioning AAA membership or things of that nature?
Gary Lee: Sounds like you're taking the right steps. Remember that the online agencies don't have access to all of the room stock at any property so calling the hotel should be your first step. In my experience if the hotel really is booked out, the best thing to do is contact the manager and make sure than you're at the top of the waiting list. You have to keep pestering them about the waiting list. Finally, get a back-up hotel in case your first choice doesn't work.
Washington, D.C.: Road trip to Cape Canaveral area this week. Group of poor college kids looking for some good, cheap fun. Any suggestions?
John Deiner: Hey, DC. I'm sure you can find lots of good cheap fun down near Cape Canaveral, if you stick near the beach. Titusville has some fun options, including the Ron Jon Surf Shop (open 24 hours last time I was in those parts) and, if you're nature fans at all, check out the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. (Great view of the space center, as well.) Dixie Crossroads is a real famous seafood joint that offers piles of fried crustaceans for a pittance (well, it's not dirt cheap, but a good value). And you can always pile in the car and head north up the coast to Daytona, which is Fun Central.
Annandale, Va: Many years ago, we were taking an extended vacation through Canada. Our final destination was Quebec and we were going to stay in the Chateau Frontenac. When we got there, in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record, we found that the hotel was under renovation to, you guessed it, add air conditioning. Made for warm (!) memories of Quebec.
Anne McDonough: Hopefully next Sunday's story about Quebec City will bring back some other, better memories!
Washington DC: Hi everyone,
My fiance and I are planning a spring 2007 wedding and are just beginning to let our imaginations run wild about the honeymoon. We are neither restricted by time nor money (within reason for both, of course). We're interested in relaxing and being pampered with spa services and divine food in a non-trendy location, and also in beautiful views and the opportunity to sightsee and take day trips.
I'd love your thoughts on locations that fit the bill. Thank you!
Carol Sottili: I'll send you the link to our honeymoon edition, which ran May 21. That may give you some ideas. Since we're all constrained by both time and money here, I'll send this out to our well-heeled chatters for ideas. The Amalfi Coast of Italy comes to mind.
washingtonpost.com: To the 'Moon: Honeymoon Destinations , (May 21, 2006)
Carol Sottili: Here's the honeymoon link.
Washington, DC: Heat related:
I once fell of the wagon due to excessive heat...sort of.
I was renowned among my friends and family for drinking copious amounts of iced tea -- like 3-4 glasses at lunch every day. Realizing that it's simply better to drink water, I cut back to zero over the course of 6 months and was "clean" for over 2 years.
Cut to Sevilla, Spain (or as I call it, the "Phoenix of Europe) in a mid-June heat wave with temps near 120 (I have the bank sign saying "50" to prove it).
There's only so much water a person can drink in a day before needing something -- anything -- else on their palette.
I've managed to hold strong at 4 glasses of iced tea every day, no more, I swear.
Anne McDonough: As long as they're not Long Island strain of ice teas...
RE: Dry heat: Having lived in DC for 2/3 of the past ten years, with family in Tucson and having spent last year in northern Nevada - I have to disagree. Dry heat is SO much better - it's hard on the body because you don't even know that you are losing fluid so fast (your sweat evaporates off and you aren't as uncomfortable), but give me 120 in a dry heat over 88 in our humidity any day of the week!
Anne McDonough: You do speak from experience, so I'll give it to you ;) I just meant that when you're uncomfortable, you're uncomfortable. Take this office, for one. I freeze and pile on the cardigans in summer, John revels in the air conditioning. I hate breathing in dry heat, you don't like it humid. Makes the world go 'round.
Harpers Ferry, W. Va: Regarding the Cliff Walk in Newport - is the trail particularly difficult and, if you want to do only a portion of the walk, which would be the best section of the walk?
Gary Lee: The trail is very easy, flat for most of the way with great views all along of the sea and the gardens. The path is a bit better in the first mine and a half though so that's a good point to turn back if you're not up to the whole thing. Another thing to keep in mind is that you end up at an open area where there is no direct public transportation back. Your choices are to walk downtown (around a mile, I think, loop back to the beginning of the trail or have someone pick you up.
Downtown Washington, DC: Story about sweltering weather and travel: My fiance proposed to me in Florida during the "dog days" of summer, yet he managed to get us out of the heat for the actual proposal...by getting us into a "behind the scenes" tour of the penguin habitat at Sea World! On a day where the temps reached 100 degrees and the humidity was unbearable, he found the one place in the city where snow was falling! It was a truly memorable experience, for so many reasons.
Anne McDonough: What a cute idea! You should have penguin-themed anniversary trips.
Arlington, Va: Flight Crew, love the chats and need some help. Way back in September, my wife and I honeymooned in Aruba, on a flight and hotel package from American Airlines vacation. We were scheduled to connect in Miami, and the day we were to fly out, Hurricane Rita had cancelled all of AA's flights to Miami. AA called us and rebooked us for the following day via San Juan, which was all fine. When we returned, I wrote to AA requesting a refund for my first night's hotel, since part of the point of booking a package with an airline was to get protection in case of such an issue. It has been 10 months since then, and countless letters and phone calls later, and I have not received a response. They haven't denied my claim; they simply have insisted that it's being "processed" every time I have called and there's no way they can get more information from whoever at AA is doing the "processing." It's not an insignificant amount of money, and I am at my wit's end. Is there anything I can do?
Carol Sottili: I can't find a customer service link for American Airlines Vacations, but here is the link for the airline:
I'd contact them to find out whether the vacations branch has its own customer service arm.
Also, ask to speak to a supervisor at the number you're calling.
Honeymooners: To the soon to be newlyweds: Santorini is beautiful, trendy, and has great food and wonderful hotels. I would go there in a heartbeat!
Carol Sottili: Sounds good.
New York, NY: A hot weather story: last summer I attended a wedding at a hotel in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was hot outside for the ceremony, but imagine our distress when we moved inside -- to a function room with malfunctioning air conditioning. The door to the room was like a door to an oven. Everyone was sweating through their formalwear. It was truly awful, so much that we had to run out for iced coffee in our air conditioned car.
Anne McDonough: Let's hope the bride went for one of those simple, non-crinolined dresses. Just think of carting around one of those heavy-as-an-anchor ball gowns!
Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Crew,
Love the chats and hope you can help me.
Is there an online e-fare subscription service that can send
you all cheap flights on one route? I need to fly regularly
from LA (any airport) to Providence - fri-sun usually - and
would like it to be cheap, but it seems to be a weird route.
Any tips on making this cheap(er)?
Carol Sottili: Try Orbitz Deal Detector (www.orbitz.com) or Kayak Buzz (www.kayak.com).
Washington, DC : Actual conversation:
Me (DC resident interviewing for a job in Las Vegas): So, how hot does it get here in the summer?
Interviewer (former DC resident with 2 years of living in Las Vegas): Well, it's hot, but it's not like DC with the humidity. Let's put it this way. When you walk outside in DC in the summer, your shirt starts sticking to you within a block or two. Here, you get outside and about a block later you stop and feel like yelling out: "man, it's really freaking hot out here!"
Anne McDonough: Gotta love an honest interviewer.
Washington DC: Our hotel in Florence didn't have air conditioning, which wouldn't have been a problem if we hadn't arrived in the midst of the hottest week in five years. And, of course, this being Europe there were no window screens, so we had to choose between stiffling heat and blood-sucking mosquitos. When we checked out, I mentioned that the hotel might consider getting some fans for hot streaks like that one. The manager's response: "Oh, we have fans. Why didn't you ask?" My response: "We thought you would have mentioned it if you had them, since it's so hot." My mental response, "It's 85 degrees in the rooms at night and you idiots didn't offer guests the fans you have sitting unused in your closet??!!"
Anne McDonough: I'll bet you now Ask, ask and ask again when traveling!
Vienna, Va: Thanks for the article about estancias in Argentina. I will be in Buenos Aires on business later this year. I probably won't have enough free time for an overnight stay at an estancia, but may have some time for a day trip. Any recommendations for day trips outside of Buenos Aires?
Anne McDonough: Anyone have a favorite BA daytrip they'd reccommend?
Washington, DC: Hi - loved the Newport bit yseterday and the Waterfire bit today... loved most of all that you left some of the things we locals like to do, alone and unexposed!
Now for the question: Jersey shore question - on our way back from Newport we're going to Wildwood Crest/Wildwood. (Wildwood Crest had the only pet-friendly hotel so we're staying there.) We're a couple in our 30's... what should we be sure to hit while we are there? Anything that jumps out... please mention!
John Deiner: Hey, DC. Thanks for the Newport news. And you mean locals don't go on tours of the cottages?
Anyhoo, Wildwood is a wonderful place, really. The beaches are massive (and clean), and cheap food can be found just about anywhere (if you like pizza and the like). Wildwood Crest is actually less busy than the rest of the area, as it is comprised mostly of great old-style doo-wop hotels (take a tour if you can). From there, it's a quick hop to Cape May, which is good for a few hours puttering around on the pedestrian mall or whale-watching. If you like to bike, Wildwood is great -- flat, uncrowded streets wind for miles, and if you go early enough you can bike on the boardwalk.
As for the boardwalk, it's Jersey's biggest and best, by far. It's also fairly clean; prices for the rides are astronomical, however. Best to just go into the "penny" arcades and eat sweet stuff or a grab a hotdog. It's a great scene, though.
The one thing you shouldn't miss: the Sea Shell ice cream shop on Rio Grande Avenue. It's open pretty late, and they serve up a mean scoop of mint chocolate chip.
Heathrow Transit: Friends have a 7 hour layover in Heathrow terminal 4 (returning from Lebanon via a circuitous route, but that's another story). Where can they take a shower and freshen up without exiting security? They're not eligible for the BA first class lounge.
Steve Hendrix: Maybe coming from Lebanon this week they want to do nothing but veg, but seven hours is certainly enough time to get into the city for a bit of something.
But if they want to stay at Heathrow, here's what the British Airport Authority says about showers there:
Showers are available in the following locations:
Terminal 1 and 2: The Flight connection Centre (FCC) has shower facilities in its Comfort and Care Level - Passenger Lounge. This is located after security.
Terminal 3 - departure lounge - these facilities are currently unavailable due to development works.
Terminal 4 - available in the toilet areas on the arrivals level, before security. Further facilities are available after security control.
[Maybe the NEXT time they get flushed out of Beirut, they'll be able to shower at the intriguing Yotel slated to open in Terminal Four late this year: www.yotel.com.]
Washington, DC: I am going to Maui next month for my honeymoon. We will be staying at the Hyatt Regency in Maui. Do you have any "musts" for dining or activities? Right now, we have reservations at the Old Lahaina Luau, but our week is otherwise free. Thanks.
Anne McDonough: Chatters, help these honeymooners: We need Maui dining suggestions pronto.
Arlington, Va: I was a college student spending a summer in England. I stopped in London for a few days before catching my flight home, and it was scorchingly hot. I was riding around on the tube and had my first (sadly, first of many!) hot and crowded space related panic attack. Lucklily, in this case I was saved by two nice Londoners who noticed that I was about to lose it. They talked me down by telling me to imagine it was freezing cold and I was the only one on the train. It worked! And I still use those tactics 12 years later. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.
Anne McDonough: Ah, the kindness of strangers and the power of suggestion, or is it mind over matter. I'm out of cliches, but I love this story.
Prague ATMs: Do ATMs in Prague offer Euros, or just Czech Crowns? (specifically at the airport)
Steve Hendrix: Not sure about the airport specifically, but you can get Euros from Czech ATMs in the tourist quarter.
Washington, DC: VARIG help please!!! I booked flights for myself and my family to Brazil in September using airfarestore.com. The flight starts at DCA on Delta to Atlanta where we take another Delta flight to Sao Paolo but then switch to Varig to get from Sao Paolo to Florianopolis. I read the transcript from your last chat and heard that VARIG was going out of business which is what appears to be the case in the online reading I have done. Who do I contact first, the airfare store, Delta, or VARIG?
Carol Sottili: Here's what Cindy wrote recently:
Varig Brazilian plans to resume flights from the United States and says "all flights in July are confirmed." However, executives at the financially troubled airline apparently have some doubts: They ask that passengers call a day before departure to make sure flights are operating; if they aren't, Varig promises to put passengers on American Airlines flights.
That may not apply to you, but looking at Varig's Web site, it appears they plan to start operating at full strength come August. But it's obviously a bit of a stretch to think it will all be smooth sailing. The number to call for Varig is 800 - 468 - 2744.
trying to decide...: We have two weeks for a vacation in mid-August. Scandanavia or Eastern Europe (e.g. Prague, Budapest, maybe a fmr. Yugoslav state)? The debate in our mind is cooler and we think cheaper, vs. a trip we really want to do, but will be more expensive, we think, and not very air-conditioned while it is fairly hot. Care to weigh in?
Gary Lee: I know both those parts of the world and like them both quite a lot. I would say go for Eastern Europe, especially if you like history and Old World Culture. I'd probably add Lublana to the trip. Even though Europe is experiencing a heat wave, and Sweden etc, would be cooler, you'll probably have a richer time in the East. By the way, I doubt that Scandavia would be cheaper, in fact I suspect it would be more pricey.
Washington, D.C.: For the person heading for Carnaval: Rio is the big tourist party, but there are all sorts of different ways to experience Carnaval. Some of the spots in the northwest might give you a more local flavor without losing the party atmosphere. I found Lonely Planet's Brazil book to have lots of information on this point.
Of course, the host family I lived with in Salvador was planning to head for their beach house to -escape- Carnaval...
Gary Lee: That's a good tip. I personally would go to Salvador because of the unbelievably music and food scene but that's just me...
Falls Church, Va.: About this time last year my wife and I were vacationing in Palm Springs, California, staying at the Villa Royale Inn in the old part of town. Because the temperatures would rise to 110 degrees during the day, my wife would go jogging in the early morning. On the morning of her birthday, near the commercial district, she found a $100 crumpled up in the gutter, probably a remnmant of some illegal activity the previous night. We had a particularly nice dinner that evening. She would probably not have found it had she not gone out so early because of the heat. We spent that money many times over on that trip, on more expensive dinners, the cable car ride up the mountain above Palm Springs, etc.
Anne McDonough: Early jogger gets the Benjamin is a much nicer way to put it, don't you think?
Philadelphia, Pa: I'm heading to Portland Sept. 13th to 19th - arriving mid-day the 13th and leaving early the 19th. I have wedding to attend the 16th but am otherwise on my own - any ideas of what I should not miss? I'll be staying with friends I grew up with - but since they'll have a 6-week old baby on hand - I think I should plan on hitting the road alone. I love the outdoors, don't require luxury and am comfortable navigating on my own - I've never been to the Northwest and don't want to miss out! Thanks!!
Anne McDonough: Anyone want to share their favorite Portland haunts?
Monrovia, Md: Hot weather story - Several years ago, we traveled to Thailand for 2 weeks in April. As you know, that is the hottest time of the year there. Luckily, however, our trip coincided with the Thai New Year celebration - the highlight being that everyone tosses ice cold water on everyone else! We didn't stay hot long.......
Anne McDonough: Let's hope you knew about the tradition before you received your first dousing!
U.S. All-Inclusives?: I'm researching vacation options for my husband and I for 2007. Are there all-inclusive resorts in the U.S.? I know there's a Club Med in Florida, but are there others? We're in our 30's, but not big partiers, so we don't much care about discos or group activities. We just want to sit by the pool and have a few cocktails without worrying about the bill. It might be nice if there are cool museums or historic sites nearby in case we get the urge to explore, but that's not required. We've found a couple of resorts that appeal to us in the Caribbean, but getting there from our small-ish Midwest city seems like a big hassle (long travel time with multiple connections).
John Deiner: Good question, and we wondered the same thing ourselves when we set out to do a piece on U.S. all-inclusives a while back. We couldn't find any ourselves, which still seems puzzling. Anyone out there know of a U.S. all-inclusive? I know you can book hotels that include meals and such, but how about the soup-to-nuts-to-booze packages like you can get in the Caribbean?
One thought: Have you considered a cruise? You'd just have to fly to Florida or Baltimore or Philadelphia or any other port that offers them, and they're pretty easy on the brain. If you picked a lower key cruise line (aka, not Carnival or Royal Caribbean), you could have a similar experience to an all-inclusive.
Gainesville Va: For Steve Hendrix: Your article "Charge of the Bus Brigade" was fantastic. My husband and I have been on 10 bus tours through Europe in the last 8 years. 5 of them were on Globus/Cosmos. We were very disappointed that you did not mention that company in your DETAILS. They are great! We are taking Colette for the first time in Oct. to see France,as we found a wonderful itinerary: "French Impressions". Why not join us?! Marie and Max
Steve Hendrix: My boss is not here today to say no, so I'll yes! See you on the bus! (She'd never let me get away with a repeat).
Actually, Globus/Cosmos WERE among the companies that I called to confirm some basic price and policy information. They only reason they didn't make the final list is that they didn't call back until after I filed the story. I hear good things about them.
Cliff walk correction: There is most definitely readily available public transportation at the end of the cliff walk. I took a bus from about a block away from the beach which is at the end of the cliff walk which went right back to the depot via the waterfront area.
Gary Lee: Thanks for that information; I didn't see any transport at the end but probably I didn't wait long enough.
Washington, DC: Its not the heat, its the aftereffects... I was outside Manila for
work, basically driving from small village to tiny village
holding meetings in un-airconditioned buildings all day.
After being super-careful with what we ate and drank all
week, on my last stop I was offered a nice cool drink of juice
with deliciously refreshing ice cubes. Ahhhhh. Halfway
through the glass, I realized what I had done, and spent the
next five weeks (on the road) paying for that mistake.
Anne McDonough: Isn't that just the kicker--the places where ice just may be the next best thing to a 12-hour massage are sometimes where you just can't have it. Hope you're okay now!
Washington DC: Hi Travel Crew,
I have a somewhat sad question for you. My boyfriend and I
booked the plane tickets for our vacation a while ago. We're
now going through a rocky period and I don't think we'll be
together anymore by the time our vacation comes around
(early September). Can those tickets be refunded or credited?
How far in advance before the flight would I have to ask for
the refund? I bought them both on my credit card, if they
credit for them, will the credit be fully in my name? Thank
Carol Sottili: If it's on a so-called legacy carrier (United, American, Delta, etc.), and it's a sale fare, chances are the tickets are not refundable. You'll be able to use yours another flight, but you'll have to pay a big change fee ($50 to $200 depending on destination, airline). The ticket in your boyfriend's name will have to be used by him, so if you paid for it, you'll have to hope he reimburses you. Just make sure you do it before the flight departs - tickets are worthless if you don't act before then.
Anonymous: In yesterday's "Travel" section Q&A, there was a question about seeing Yosemite without a car. The response included the suggestion of a carpool service from Merced, with the notation "take a train there from the airport." The response didn't make clear what airport. One can take Amtrak from Sacramento or San Francisco (with connections, I believe), and they arrange bus transport from Merced to Yosemite. Amtrak from L.A. involves bus from L.A. to Bakersfield, over the Tehachapi Mountains, then train to Merced. Or one can take a Greyhound bus from L.A. or San Francisco, or other points, to Merced. One of the highlights of Yosemite is Tuolumne Meadows area, which I don't believe is any longer accessible by bus except for perhaps a tour.
Anne McDonough: Thanks for the followup, Anon! I spent a summer doing restoration work in Tuolumne Meadows (the ONLY reason why I can spell that now)--if you have the chance, GO!
Re: Portland: The Japanese Garden is really lovely. Great views of downtown and Mt. Hood.
Anne McDonough: Hear that, wedding guest?
Arlington, Va: hey flight crew! i am going to be arriving late tomorrow night in los angeles, and will be staying overnight, before flying out of LAX at 4 pm. do you have any suggestions on what i should do in los angeles before my flight?
Gary Lee: I would recommend getting up early and taking a tour of the Getty Museum. The combination of art, the building and the surrounding gardens is phenonmenal. You can have a lunch in the restaurant there and be on your merry way.
Washington, DC: I have to cancel a package trip I booked through Travelocity. If I cancel through them, I lose about $250. What do you think would happen if I contacted the airline and the hotel separately -- could I pay a change fee and keep some of the value on the airfare? I guess I should just be happy I'm not losing the whole $750, I've never used Travelocity before.
Carol Sottili: I don't think that's an option since Travelocity is issuing voucher for hotel, right? Were airline tickets issued directly from airline, or through Travelocity? I think you're out of luck.
About Carnival: Carnival festivities in Rio really start a couple days before, on Saturday, so its best to get there Thursday or so before the Fat Tuesday to really take advantage of it; I used the website to help plan my trips there: http:/
Gary Lee: Thanks. I agree that to make the whole experience worthwhile, it's best to go as early as possible and, so to speak, make a full meal of it.
Cambridge, Md: Regarding Steve's article, any specific tips that are directly for Collette tours. Was it an 'easy paced' tour or hectic. Was the routine up early every am, get on bus, get off bus and start over the next day. Any tips on packing for a bus tour? Thanks.
Steve Hendrix: It was a pretty brisk pace, but that was by design (two nights in each city, making every other day a travel day). Still, there were several hours of free time in every city, and most people seemed satisfied with the rythm. Only one morning did we saddle up before 8 a.m., and that was a strategic call by the tour guide to be early at tourist site that gets very crowded early.
Packing tip: go light, of course, but don't hesitate to jam your one bag pretty full, as you won't be required to handle it yourself. (And I speak as the guy who had to a lot of the handling.)
Arlington, Va: My fiance and I are trying to decide on a honeymoon location. We both want someplace to allows for relaxation but also great food and wine and exploring new cities and cultures. Currently, we are thinking about Italy/Croatia. Do you think this will fit the bill? Can we do this without booking a cruise? I'd rather spend more time on land than on a ship. Any other suggestions of unique places to look at for a 10 day trip next May?
Anne McDonough: Hey Arl, check out the link we just posted about our recent honeymoon issue. I think Italy and Croatia sound perfect, and you'd definitely be able to do it sans cruise. Coming up should be a link to KC's piece about Croatia that just might get you sold on the place.
Altoona, Pa: Hi, We have a three-hour drive to Dulles for an afternoon flight. We'll be gone two weeks and are hoping to find off-airport parking. Is there safe long-term parking nearby, or a hotel that lets you park if you spend a night? Thank you, experts.
John Deiner: Hey, Altoona. Man, that's a long drive for a flight! Dulles has a good amount of long-term parking, but I'm not aware of any private lots (correct me out there if I'm wrong, please!). Check www.parksleepfly.com for hotels that offer long-term deals with a room.
re: maui dining: Roy's, while a chain, is still a must for local seafood whenever we go to Maui. The one in Kihei is usually packed, but it's worth it. If you feel like venturing to quiet Wailea for an evening, we also think highly of Longhi's in the Shops at Wailea. Nice patio, good Italian food, and no parking hassles.
Anne McDonough: Oh, honeymooners...
Vienna, Va: It was the trip of a lifetime--the honeymoon we never had. Hubby and I went to the North Shore of Oahu in July (2004) to stay in a little beach-front bungalow. Upon our arrival, we learned that the house had been broken into the night before. The thieves cleaned out the family, while they were even in the house! Our rental agent advised us to sleep with all windows and doors shut and locked. Without a/c, the bungalow quickly turned into an oven. We slept on the murphy bed in the living room, because that's where there was a ceiling fan. We sweated through four nights there. In spite of our sleepless nights, we still loved the scenery and the beaches. But from now on, I will ask about the security and the air conditioning before renting a house.
Anne McDonough: Good rule of thumb--sorry you had to go through that, though!
washingtonpost.com: Ferrily She Rolled Along , (March 26, 2006)
Anne McDonough: For the potentially Croatia-bound... Thanks, Kim!
Savage, Md.: My husband is taking me next month on a surprise trip that is within a three-hour plane ride from Baltimore, a direct flight if we'd go from Dulles but with a connection since we're flying from Baltimore. I need a passport but not my swimsuit....
Help, where might I be going?
Steve Hendrix: Oooh. We love a mystery. Gary Lee and I both instantly thought Montreal.
We'll throw this out for guesses, Savage, but only if you pledge to write back when you find out.
Readers? Sift these meager clues and opine.
Anonymous: Dining on Maui: Mama's Fish House in Paia, on the north shore. An upscale, well-known seafood restaurant in a converted beach house. Reservations called for but we dined there without.
Heat: wife and I took an overnight bus in northeastern Brazil. Air conditioning going the whole time. On the return, took a daytime bus. No air conditioning. Asked my wife (a Brazilian) and she said that if they used the a/c on the daytime route, when the bus stopped a lot, it would overwork the compressor. So, I asked, you get a/c at night when it's cooler, but not during the day whenit's hot? Of course, she replied, as though my question were rather silly.
Anne McDonough: I forgot about MFH! I don't even eat fish and I loved it.
Silver Spring, Md: Salvador is also the place to go for Carnival if you're into making out with strangers. Seriously. I hear that's what it's all about. My married Brazilian friends say they can't go there anymore, because all you do all night is make out with strangers in the street.
Gary Lee: Thanks. I guess that leaves a wide open opportunity for single, adventure-seekers....
Anonymous: The biggest Rio Carnaval parades, over several days, are in the Samboadrome, sort of an elongated stadium. Those who like "street Carnavals" talk highly of Olinda, next to Recife, and Salvador de Bahia. Smaller on in historic Tiradentes, outside of Rio. Rates for flights and hotels high in all of those locations, however, and weathr not the best. You need to really want to go to Carnaval to appreciate it.
Gary Lee: Thanks for those tips, anon!
Washington DC: Dear Flight Crew, We're driving to the Northeast coat of Maine for summer vacation in a little old Honda filled with outdoors gear, guitars, and bikes. I suspect that this trip could well become a Gen-X version of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." But that's another story.
Anyhooow, my BF and I are debating which route to take--the trucker route through PA (I-81 North) or the more direct but possibly congested route of I-95 through New Jersey and Connecticut. IMHO, we should take the latter route, and I need your expert advice to prove that I am right...er, I mean, to suggest the best route (i.e., the shortest and the most pleasant). Would you and/or your readers please weigh in? Thank you!
John Deiner: Hey, DC. I always opt for the more direct route, and plan accordingly (leave really late or really early and take frequent breaks or change drivers). Anyone out there have some advice for DC?
RE: Maui Honeymoon: The chatter going on the Maui honeymoonn, I recommend taking a spin on the Wiki Wahini (good for whale watching in February but just a fun trip otherwise) and they must dine at Leilanni's By the Sea. For dessert, order the Hula Pie. It's been 12 years and my family is STILL raving about it!
Anne McDonough: Thanks--anything that garners a rave 12 years later is good in my book.
portland...from a native...: have a car? drive to Timberline Lodge. Drive up the Columbia Gorge. Go to Astoria on the coast. Go to a wine tasting in the valley. it's the perfect time of year to be in Stumptown...
Anne McDonough: For the wedding guest, part deux
Arlington, Va: About 10 years ago, we vacationed in Hong Kong and took a day trip to Macau. It was about 94 and very humid, and quite a shock to our systems because we were living in the SF Bay Area at the time. About the only air conditioned place, outside of cabs (casinos were not our thing) was this maritime museum that charged $5 for entry. It had very goofy displays, and I can still see in my head that mechanical puppetry of a Chinese legend. But it was cool and had clean toilets, and we ended up going twice and paying twice, just to get out of the heat.
Anne McDonough: I bet that's how the museum makes all it's money ;)
Washington, DC: LOVED the story on the bus tours. Have you ever read "Rule #5: No Sex on the Bus"? It's a book of job-related anecdotes written by a tour guide, and it's hilarious.
Since reading this book and your article, I find myself wonder, how does one become a bus tour guide?
Steve Hendrix: No! I have to find that. (Does sex in the little lavatory count?)
My impression is that there's lots of turnover in the tour guide biz (It's like owning an inn, sounds great in theory, can be greatly wearing in practice). Call one of these companies and go for it.
20th and Pennsylvania, Washington, DC: For Philadelphia-in 1998 I had an afternoon to kill in Portland during a business trip. Drove west on Rt. 26 through the mountains to the coast; saw Tillamook Head, Seaside, Ft. Clatsop (where Lewis & Clark wintered 1805-06), Fort Stevens (shelled by a Japanese Sub during WWII and an excellent display of coast artillery towers like to see in Rehoboth and Bethany Beach), lunch in Astoria on waterfront (great crab) and drove back to Portland along I-5. A much different oceanfront that the Delaware coast I'm familiar with and any easy day trip.
Anne McDonough: Excellent-thanks, 20th & PA!
San Francisco, Calif: Re Maui dining: I loved Vino and Sansei, both in Kapalua, just north of where they're staying. Mama's Fish House is good, but VERY VERY expensive (even more so than the usual Hawaii prices), so it's not horrible if they take a pass.
Anne McDonough: Thanks for the practical note--you listening, honeymooner?
San Francisco, Calif: American Airlines is set to announce a revamp of its business class which includes lie-flat beds. Any word on whether United will do the same and when?
Carol Sottili: American plans to install the new seats on its Boeing 767-300s and Boeing 777s starting this year, but I haven't heard anything about United doing the same.
Penguin Island: For the penguin proposal couple:
One great penguin destination I'd recommend is South Island, New Zealand - home of BLUE penguins! And, great music scene in the college town of Dunedin! There's also penguins on the south shore of Australia, along a gorgeous stretch that includes some beautiful wineries -- seriously, an idea to consider!
For the Varig customer:
You can get pretty good prices on Brazilian domestic discount airline GOL to Florianopolis. Book ahead so you have a fallback. I don't know how much time you have, but the drive is not unbearable once you get an hour outside SP...
Carol Sottili: Thanks.
Silver Spring, Md.: In Greece about 10 years ago I was being a good girl and using the money belt while I wandered around the Acropolis. It was a ridiculously hot, windy day, and I often had to struggle to keep my footing on the slippery, undulating marble surfaces of the Acropolis. In wind like that, I guess you don't notice how much you're sweating - but when I was sitting down outside the gates later, and poking through my money belt, I discovered I'd sweated so much that the ink ran on my ferry ticket and I could barely read it. They still took the ticket down at Piraeus the next day, but it made me give up money belts forever. Now? Just give me a good old-fashioned purse.
Anne McDonough: Ah-but if your purse is stolen, it doesn't matter that your ticket is sweat-proof.
I'm melting...: Submitting early - help! We are headed to San Francisco and Marin County, and always used to stay with friends there. This time, its hotels for us, but I have no idea where to start. Any recs for good, reasonably priced (ok, budget) hotels in San Francisco or across the bridge? I know you guys have some faves that you've recommended before, but I can't seem to find them in the archive.
Anne McDonough: Fave SF hotels? Anyone?
Hot travel: This isn't a hot story yet, but we are heading to Vegas this weekend. Considering the heat index here is 108, and the Vegas forcast is a dry 103, it almost seems like a relief.
John Deiner: Hey, HT. I just got back from Vegas, where it topped out at 110 the other day and was headed for 112 on Sunday. The city basically just shrugs off those kind of temperatures though!
Argentina: It is not a day trip..but my favorite way to spend time in Argentina is spending a relaxing day in palermo...sit outside at a wine bar...have a cafe con leche..shop at fancy boutiques 1/4 the price of here...having a $4 prix fixed lunch..
Anne McDonough: Cafe con leche...mmmm...
RE: NE Coast to Maine: Hi, just some thoughts about the 81 vs. 95 debate...
I've driven both at different points. I never liked I-81. I find I-95 more interesting, especially the closer you get to NYC. What I also like is that if you have the time, it's very, very nice to get off I-95 in Connecticut and take Rte. 1 through towns like Mystic, Stonington, etc. Much nicer than the highway. In fact this is what we do every year when we do the drive north to the ancestral home (in Newport). There are fantastic places there to overnight and poke around if you are so inclined, and to make small detours if you want.
John Deiner: Man, that's a great suggestion -- love Route 1 myself. And if you time it right, it can all be a very pleasant drive.
Arlington, Va: I have a heat-related story about the kindness of strangers. I was visiting Haridwar, India in July, and given the choice between taking a lift up to a temple and walking in the scorching summer heat-- well, I had to walk. I felt fine until I'd gotten halfway down from my walk; suddenly, I just got dizzy, sat down, and closed my eyes. When I opened them, a family was staring at me, concerned. They spoke only Hindi, and so did the doctor they finally managed to help their stumbling companion to. He gave me some big blue pills. I felt woozy and nauseous, but felt compelled through the force of the family's personality to accompany them to lunch (non a/c) and touristing for the rest of the day. I spent the next week lying on my bed, imbibing fluids, and taking the mysterious pills.
I do think I figured out what they were for, though-- I couldn't go to the bathroom for about two weeks afterward, if you know what I mean. I guess that is one solution for dehydration!
Anne McDonough: Thanks for sharing, Arl. Pay it forward...
Allentown, Pa.: I really enjoyed Steve's perspective of a bus tour. I have never taken one and always wondered what the benefits were. His article clearly showed why it's a great idea for some travelers. I was wondering though why a company such as Collette agrees to allow a reporter to tag along. Do you think it's for the publicity? Do you identify yourself as a reporter to the company (I assumed you did) and to the tourists? Did you have to pay like everyone else, were you paid for helping, or did you just call it even? Thanks for another great article.
Steve Hendrix: Thanks, Allentown. Yes, I'm sure they agreed for the publicity. They either thought that any publicity was good (should I write a negative piece) or they had enough confidence in their system that they counted on a positive piece. [Several companies turned me down. And I did this same thing a few years ago as a raft guide and it didn't come out so well]. I'm pretty sure that Collette arranged things so that I was with one of their more senior, experienced guides. Yes, I told the passengers on the first night what I was up to. I also told them I was really working and encouraged them to use and abuse me as they would any staffer. Believe me, they did! I worked 12-, 15-hours every day. Washington Post policy dictates that we not take any free or discounted trips. In this case, since I was actually doing the chores of a staff member, I didn't pay the passenger fee. But we did pay for my airfare and all my personal expenses, of course.
Broken heart : Hi there,
My boyfriend of a year broke up with me (in a verbally violent way) on Saturday. I am devistated.
I would like to drive somewhere this weekend to have time to myself and heal. Do of any of you have options of where I can go? I am not in the mood for the antics of Ocean City, Dewey or VA Beach. Somewhere less crazy and more reflective. Also, budget is a small issue, but for one night, I can manage.
Thanks for your help!
Carol Sottili: I'd head for the hills. Beach is nice, but too busy right now. How about Coolfont in Berkeley Springs, W. Va.? Has a nice spa and nearby hiking trails. If that's too expensive, there are plenty of individually owned cabins in that neck of the woods. Try one of the rent-through-owner sites, such as www.vrbo.com.
Honeymoon: To the "money-is-no-object" honeymooners: a good friend just got back from three weeks in Bali. They stayed at three amazing hotels (I believe they were the Four Seasons Jimbaran (SP?) Bay, Royal Kita Maha (soemthing like that) and Amankila). The pictures were AMAZING and I think anyone could have an amazing honeymoon there (anyone with a limitless Visa card, that is).
Other notable locations would be Malaysia (check out the Four Season Malaysia - amazing), Bora Bora, and the Maldives.
Carol Sottili: Sounds quite nice, but I'd want to fly first class.
re: driving to Maine: When I was a kid, we used to drive to Maine every summer. 2 adults and 2 kids in a jam-packed Toyota Corolla with a carrier on top. I was the youngest with the shortest legs so I would end up with a small suitcase under my feet. Lots of fun.
Anyway, we would almost always take the Jersey Turnpike, but the year we went through PA was so much nicer. I think it did take a little longer, but it was pretty and pretty counts for a lot when you're going to be in the car for 12 hours anyway.
If you do take the Turnpike, when it splits between cars & trucks or just cars, take the truck option. It's a lot less crowded.
John Deiner: Looks like a split decision here: Basically, go either way but be prepared for a longer, pretty ride or congestion. You're right on about that car/truck split -- but it never hurts to listen to local radio once you're up there to see if there's an accident farther up the road. (And love that suitcase story!) Thanks for chiming in.
Washington, DC: There's a chance I'll be in Brasilia on business in August. I'd like to stay a few days after my work is done. What would you do if you had only three days in Brazil? (My first thought was to see the Amazon/rainforest.)
Anne McDonough: We have about 6 minutes left to post ideas for 3 Days in Brazil...
Driving to Maine: Don't take I-81! I used to live in PA and that road is a death trap! AND it's booooring! You might get into traffic on I-95, but at least there is stuff to look at and if traffic gets really bad you can always get on Route 1 for a while and get around the congested areas.
John Deiner: No split decision here: I-95 good, I-81 bad (at least as booooring death traps go). Great stuff -- thanks for the succinct advice.
Washington, D.C.: Portland is a FANTASTIC place.
Some highlights from my recent trip:
-Powell's bookstore (massive)
-Saturday Market (also on Sundays)
-Washington Park, home of the zoo, the International Rose Test Garden (beautiful!), and hiking all the way up to Washington state
Anne McDonough: Portland, Portland Portland. Just kidding--thanks, DC.
Washington, D.C.: I enjoyed the article about the affordable alternatives for portable navigation systems. While I don't have the $ to spend on one, I have found the combined power of my blackberry and google maps is another cheap alternative that combines a device I have to take with me on road trips anyway with a useful navigation tool. Google Maps has a application that you can download to your mobile pda (http:/
Steve Hendrix: That's a great suggestion, WDC. Combines techno stuff many of us already have. Sounds like the only thing you don't get with that is the turn-by-turn voice directions (which CAN be usefull in the car, especially if you're alone).
For the 2007 honeymoon planners: Have you considered the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel on the island of S¿o Miguel in the eastern Azores (non-stop flights out of Boston)? In the 19th century people came from all over Europe (and the US) take "take the waters" at the local hot-springs in Furnas. Among the sights to see right there are the magnificent Furnas Botanical Gardens in Parque Terra Nostra, originally established by an American Vice-Consul in the late 1700s. I'm not sure what's available there nowadays in terms of spa offerings -- although I saw people swimming in a pond in front of the Hickling house -- plus I was staying at a hotel in the island's main city of Ponta Delgada. However, my guided tour spent half a day on the east end of the island. so at least I got to see the place.
I DID, however, have lunch in the Terra Nostra Hotel's elegant dining room -- one of those memorably wonderful meals of a lifetime. When my waiter found out I was vegetarian, he offered to have the chef prepare me a vegetarian platter which included several kinds of custom-made croquettes. For dessert I chose slices of the locally-grown pineapple (there are huge commercial greenhouses on that island) -- which was so much sweeter and juicier than the fresh ones available in US supermarkets; no pastry could ever had surpassed that dessert, even for someone with such a sweet-tooth as I have! I'm sure you can find more info re Terra Nostra online, or by checking with your travel agent. Boa sorte (good luck!).
Carol Sottili: Another interesting idea.
Washington,D.C.: Good morning Flight Crew!
I'm flying to Montego Bay Jamaica this week,and i'm wondering what to expect flying with Jamaica Air.Also has anyone ever stayed at Royal Decameron Montego Beach Resort?
Gary Lee: Expect a crowded party atmosphere. The champers could be better, there could be more leg room, the food is just average, but on the whole it's a pretty decent good time.
Don't know the resort, sorry.
Belize: I recently read KC's article on Belize and more specifically Mopan River Resort. It sounds like a wonderful vacation and could make for an exciting honeymoon. How long does it take to go from the Belize airport to the resort? Thanks for the great article, and the great idea!
Anne McDonough: Thanks for the feedback! Check out the FAQs on their Web site--it seems to say it's about 2 hours, I believe: http:/
New York, NY: A couple of summers ago, a buddy and I were touring the southwest. When talking to a local resident, we exclaimed how hot it was. To which he responded in all seriousness, "Nah, it can't be much more than a hundred."
John Deiner: See what a few thousand miles will do to a perspective? Thanks, NY...stay in the air-con today, will ya?
Bakersfield, Calif: It's HOT! To celebrate a birthday, (which is this week), I thought Cabo San Lucas sounded good. Went to town the first day...didn't bargain, just bought the first broad-brimmed hat from the first vender. Ball caps don't cut it. Drank water profusely. Smoking a cuban was out. Moral: don't go that far south on your birthday unless its in February. Bright note: A Delaware Punch (you remember those) never tasted so good....
Steve Hendrix: But remember the altitude! I've spent some lovely August days in tropical latitudes...in the mountains. (I speak a big fan of the Guatemala highlands).
North Florida: DC is the hottest place on earth. We traveled to DC for the 4th of July in 1999. It was so hot that the rubber on my shoes melted as we toured the city--thought it was gum--nope melting tread. I cooled off under the Candian Embassy fountain (I'm sure that's not allowed post-9/11)--in doing so lost my favorite sunglasses (picutre Jackie O sans the famous specs)
Really...the mix of concrete, people, buildings...just kills me.
John Deiner: And this is coming from someone in North Florida! That means ya gotta believe it. Unfortunately, the 4th of July always seems to coincide with some of our hottest, most horrid weather. Glad you were able to enjoy it!
Baltimore Md: About 8 years ago, my niece (by marriage) was getting married. She chose July. Her family lives in Baton Rouge, but she wanted a really special venue and found a plantation in Mississippi that could be rented. I was asked to be part of the ceremony by reading appropriate Bible verses. Being a ham, I said okay--not realizing that I would have to wear black formal wear and stand outside, in an amphitheater setting, for approximitely 45 minutes in Mississippi in July. Of course, no water was available, as that would have spoiled the theatrical nature of the event.
My one consolation: she was divorced within a year.
Steve Hendrix: Ouch. But a black tuxedo is even hotter.
Washington DC: I used Las Vegas as a base for a southwest hiking vacation and decided to acclimate to the heat by walking with my full pack from the airport to my hotel. (Suprisingly, there is very good pedestrian access from the airport.) It was about 4 miles in 100 degree heat, but with a few water breaks it wasn't too hard and I felt fine when I arrived at the hotel. However, the room air conditioner was set at a frosty 62 degrees, and the shock literally sickened me: I started shivering and felt nauseated. I had to run a hot shower to get the room back up to a normal temperature. Fortuately, after a half hour rest I was fine.
John Deiner: Oooooh, been there. That change can really smack you around.
Rockville, Md.: I have a cousin who lives in Phoenix and always tells us that's a great place to live ("It's only hot nine months of the year."). I remember when we went to visit her in Sept. 2002 (we went from Houston). She was telling us how its not the heat, its the humidty, and i'm thinking ,"after the temp reaches 100 degrees does it really matter?". It was 109 that day and if you stepped out into the sun, you would fry instantly.. my most vivid memory was driving on the highway and seeing the thirsty looking animals outside.
Steve Hendrix: Actually, I buy into the it's-the-humidity thing. At least the shade and the nighttime hours offer some relief from dry heat. In DC right now, at least in my lamely-ACd house, there is no escape.
Anne McDonough: Well it sure is a hot world out there, if your stories are anything to go by! Thanks, all, for chiming in, and especially for the posters who threw out their Maui, Portland and drivin' to Maine tips. Travelers everywhere thank you. And if the poster whose heat-induced panic attack was soothed by Londoners sends me an email address at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll get those goodies right out to you. Don't forget to check out this Sunday's section for info on Quebec, Birmingham Ala., tips on how to snag a last-minute beach rental at five area beaches and lots, lots more ...
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