Talk About Travel
Monday, October 15, 2007; 2:00 PM
The Post's Travel Section Flight Crew will take your comments, questions, suspicions, warnings, gripes, sad tales and happy endings springing from the world of ... the world. Of course, the Flight Crew will be happy to answer your travel questions -- but the best thing about this forum, we insist, is that it lets travelers exchange information with other travelers who've been there, done that or otherwise have insights, ideas and information to share. Different members of the Crew will rotate through the captain's chair every week, but the one constant is you, our valued passengers.
We know you have a choice in online travel forums, and speaking for the entire Flight Crew, we want to thank you for flying with us.
Andrea Sachs: Welcome back to another hour of "You Ask, We Answer--Now Let's Travel." Today, Elissa Leibowitz Poma is joining us to discuss the Seven Wonders story that ran in Sunday's section. So, toss your questions to her and likely she will have seven answers for you.
Also, for today's question: Who has made their Thanksgiving plans already? Tell us how far in advance you booked, or how long you plan to procrastinate for.
re: German Village in Columbus, OH : Following up on a letter to the editor in Sunday's Travel section.
When I was in Columbus, OH, last year for a few days for work, some of us went to Schmidt's, which has been serving wursts, schnitzel, beer (of course) and other classic Bavarian fare since 1886. The highlight was the accordianist and drummer playing "Beer Barrel Polka" and "Pennsylvania Polka," in authentic costume -- as were the servers/beer wenches -- and the decor.
If they weren't speaking English, I would have thought I was in Munich!
Andrea Sachs: I had only a short time in Columbus and only drove through German Village. But I did hear that it was pretty authentic. For my next trip . . .
Arlington, VA: Does anyone on the Crew have experience obtaining a tourist visa for Vietnam? I've read the requirements and looked at the application online, but I can't seem to find the cost of the application fee on the embassy's web site. I am still waiting to hear back from the embassy staff via the email address their site provides. Some friends have said, just wait and get it either in Bangkok where I will be for some time prior, or at the border crossing (in my case at the airport in Hanoi), but others have said border purchase is not possible. I am fairly certain the latter is correct--it cannot be obtained just prior to entry. I plan on getting it here in DC first, but just wanted to know the cost.
Cindy Loose: I got one several years ago and seem to remember it was about $60, but it might have gone up. As to the current cost: I went on the Vietnam Embassy site (www.vietnamembassy-usa.org) and where it explains how to get the visa their are the words "visa cost" in red. If you click on those words, up pops an email address, so I guess that's how they want to handle the info. Email: email@example.com
The U.S. State Dept. site (www.travel.state.gov) says that entry visas are not available on entry. Even if the site didn't mention the issue, I'd still want my visa in hand before I got there, to avoid dissapointment. I, so I'd turstlbe on they you strat.Stchecked
Washington, DC: Morning Crew! Excellent piece last week about non-fly Cruise Terminals. I'm sailing from Manhattan in two weeks. By necessity, we will be Driving to the terminal. The article stated that there are "limited" parking spaces available at the terminal and that one cannot Reserve one. Now I'm in total panic mode. What on Earth are we to do if we get to NY and there are NO Parking Spaces? Unlike DC, I don't expect there to be much street parking. Do curise lines (We're sailing New Holland) have shuttle services from other points? Thanks!
Scott Vogel: Don't panic yet! The first thing you should do is call the parking office at the terminal -- 212-641-4453. They'll no doubt be able to give you updated information regarding the dates you'll be sailing. Also, ask about additional parking lots that are not onsite. Apparently the terminal also has access to one or more lots on 59th Street.
Charlottesville, Va.: Hey Crew --
I suspect I know the answer, but I'd love your thoughts. Looked today at flights home to Milwaukee for the holidays (no more than 4 full days of family fun -- it's really all anyone can take), and found one for around $365. Particularly from our tiny C-Ville airport, where everything's about $100 more expensive at least, it seems like a steal (nothing really saved looking at the Richmond fares). Am I crazy or should I go with the little voice in my head that says book now because it won't get lower? Or should I wait a couple of weeks and see?
Cindy Loose: If I saw a price now I thought was good, especially over the Christmas holidays, I'd grab it before it disappeared--if it hasn't already. Can't guarantee prices couldn't come down, but I wouldn't bet they would.
Baton Rouge, LA: Does anyone have experience with the Rick Steves' tours? I'm looking at one of their European trips this spring. I like that the groups are smaller and they use the public transportation available in the larger cities. I'm not looking for 4-star accomodations. Is this a good choice?
Andrea Sachs: He is a dependable, reliable, long-time name in the business, but I have never taken a tour with him. Anyone out there with a Rick Steves stamp on their travel log?
Alexandria, VA: Here's a challenge for you all. I'm completely stumped. My college roommates and I (six girls total) would like to get together for a 4-night trip to celebrate our 30th birthdays. We have decided on President's Day weekend, but that's about as far as we can get. We'd like to go someplace "warmish" with a selection of activities, but mostly, we'd like a great place we can all be together, catch up and chill. The catch is we'd like to do it for about $1,000 each and we're coming from all over -- DC, Chicago, Phoenix and Little Rock. The group as a whole seems to be over Vegas. We've looked at the Caribbean but can't seem to find anything within out budget. Any other ideas?
Andrea Sachs: Here are some thoughts for a girls' weekend:
Miami, Key West, San Diego, Bahamas (look for an all-inclusive package).
My wife and I will be going on an in -depth Bible hiking tour ( 9- 10 miles per day) of certain parts of Israel (see below) in May 2008. We leave May 28 and return to the U.S. on 10 June. The tour seems very well organized and all expenses (airfare, transportation, lodging, 3 meals per day, taxes, fees, tips, etc.) are included in the per peson price of $3900. We'll be staying at the Novotel Thalassa Dead Sea Resort - Dead Sea , the Kibbutz Nof Ginosar - Sea of Galillee, and the Grand Court - Jerusalem. A couple of questions. First, is the cost reasonable for what will be provided, and 2nd, anything we should be aware of (dos/don'ts) having never visited Israel? Thank you.
Tel Bet Shemesh Tel Azekah, Elah Valley, Tel Lakhish
Tel Arad, Bedouin's, Avdat, Zin
Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran
Mt. Arbel Chorazin, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Mt. Of Beatitudes
Susita, Gamla, Qatzrin, Jordan River
Hatzor, Omrit, Caesarea Philippi, Dan, Zefat
Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, Zippori
Bet Shean, Jericho, Jerusalem
Andrea Sachs: What an amazing trip! We are quiet envious, since we have never been there. So, to keep you safe and well-advised, does anyone out there have any suggestions for our Israel-bound traveler?
Teachers Tour: End of October going to Valletta, Malta for 5 days after Mediterranean cruise port stop. Staying at LeMeridien St. Julian Hotel on Balluta Bay and have 3 1/2 days of tours scheduled for city, Mdina, and Gozo island. Any special restaurants, shopping areas, or beaches are your favorites?
John Deiner: Sounds great, TT. First, it's not a good beach destination, so don't expect Caribbean-like expanses of sand, alas. But it's been a while since I've been there, so I'm not quite if my picks would still be viable. One thing I really liked was the crafts market in the town of Fontana on Gozo -- everything I found elsewhere, like Maltese wine, lace and art glass seemed to be cheaper there. One of my favorite places to eat was at It-Tmun, a cafe in Xlendi on Gozo's southern coast. I just looked at its Web site, and it seems to be doing quite well.
But, again, I was there some time ago (2003). Honestly, though, I wasn't disappointed anywhere.
Anyone out there with some good suggestions?
Portland, Ore: This is in response to some issues raised in last weeks chat ..Vegas: Some options are exploring the surrounding area. A 2 hr one way drive is Zion Nation Park. Another, much closer option is Red Rock Canyon NRA. In January weather can vary. You could have 70+ days or the high could be in the 40s. The winter months you get more moisture. A couple of years ago in January Death Valley had an unusually heavy rainy season which resulted in flowers blooming. Death valley is about a 2-3 hour drive away.
With the weather in the West: If you plan on traveling in the interior west where the elevation is generally higher than 6000 feet even though there are no mountains near you, you can have unusual weather. The months of May-June and September- October you can end up with unexpected snow. About every year in mid September-mid October you will have a chance of running into snow. Snow would be more common in the higher elevations. Albuquerque is around 6500 ft and Santa Fe is around 8500 feet. Most of the area north of I-40 and South of I-70, East of I-15 and west of I-25 in the 4-corner states is above 6500 feet.
For example where I live in Portland, A few weeks ago there was snow through the Cascade mountain passes there was snow at the level of the mountain passes.
Before you go look at the weather forecast of what it will be plus what the norms are for that time of the year. San Francisco can be cold in the spring because of the ocean effects. Its warmest time of year is now because the water temps are the warmest. Alaska in the months of June, July, and August can get normal summertime warmth that many are used to in the lower 40 with temps in the 80s and 90s in the interior parts of the state.
Yellowstone travelers: When in September were you planning on traveling and were you planning on camping or staying in a hotel. Weather can get pretty cold in later September in Yellowstone. Jackson flight scheduling varies with the seasons. Given how reliable flight schedules are, I would suggest flying into a little larger airport and enjoy the drive. If you are planning on spending a week there then its very easy to fly into Salt Lake City or Idaho Falls and drive to the parks.
Christina Talcott: Wow, thanks for your suggestions and tips about the weather and flying to larger airports when going to Yellowstone. That sounds like a sound plan to me!
Washington, DC: Hi, Crew! I'll be in Bratislava, Slovakia for 3 days in about two weeks from now. Most guidebooks, etc. tend to cover this city very briefly. Any suggestions for must-sees, must-dos or parts of town I should stay in? Any local customs I could partake in that might not be mentioned in the books? Thanks!
Gary Lee: While it is not the spectacular jewel that Prague is, Bratislava has lots going for it. Above all, it has one of the best operas in Europe. Even if you're not an opera fan, grab a ticket and go if you can.
As for hotels, if you don't mind paying a couple of hundred bucks a night, Marrol's is a great hotel. The Danube is also good. And for those on a budget, Color is a nice new property although it's a bit far afield from the center.
For daytime pursuits, go to the city tourism office and arrange an architectural tour. It will be worth it. There are also a few small interesting museums, all located nearby one another. They include the Clock Museum, Arts and Crafts Museum, Wine Making Museum, and so on. During my stay in Bratislava a couple of years back, I found them more interesting than a tour of the Castle.
Gaithersburg, MD: My heart goes out to the Gotbaum family, to the husband who now has to raise motherless children alone. People will try to judge them but this could just as easily have happened to any one of us. This sorry episode should be a big wake up call for the airline industry and how it treats travelers. Even when all goes as planned, travel is stressful; add in illness and nearly overwhelming stress and even healthy, stable people get pushed beyond their ability to cope. I've had enough nightmare experiences in airports that I fly only when I need desperately to be someplace very quickly and even then the arrival time/day is a crapshoot. It is clear that something needs to be done to help travelers. I didn't know the Gotbaum family but this has been bothering me a lot. Thanks for letting me vent.
KC Summers: Thanks for posting. I blogged about this piece this morning -- it was a terrible tragedy and one that could have been completely avoided, as it resulted by overbooking on US Airways' part.
For those who haven't seen the story, we'll post a link, but here are the basics: A woman who was flying from JFK to Tucson died while shackled to a bench in the Phoenix airport. She was connecting in Phoenix and was on time, plus had confirmed her reservations through to Tucson at JFK, yet was denied boarding because her seat had been given to another passenger. She became distraught, airline personnel called police, and they took her to a holding cell where they shackled her to a bench. She somehow became entangled in her handcuffs and died.
As the story pointed out, much has been made of the fact that she was on her way to an alcohol treatment program, but no one observed her drunk that day. And since flying can drive a normal person insane, imagine what it does to an emotionally fragile person.
Thoughts on this? Have any of the chatters been denied boarding, and how did you handle it? How did the airline handle it?
Congrats on the 7 (local) wonders -- that page is a keeper! And thanks for printing it all on one page, and not dividing it across parts of several pages.
Having been to 6 out of 7, I now want to try to visit #7, Fallingwater. But as I don't have a car, and don't want to rent a car just to see it, are there any alternative ways to get there?
By the way, you need a new group photo at the top of this page.
Cindy Loose: Funny you should mention the picture--We had a new one shot last week.
As to Fallingwater: No way to get there or get around once you get there by public transporation. Unless you can organize a bus tour, you're going to need to drive, I'm sorry to say. It is in a rather rural area. By the way, as I mentioned in CoGo recently, there is a third house designed by Frank in the area, and you can rent the whole house for something like $385 a night.
Philadelphia, Pa: I made my Thanksgiving plans for this year around Dec 1st last year! We're doing a repeat of what we did last year. My husband and I, and a friend from Belfast living in Philly for two years, will drive from Philly to Fairfax on Thanksgiving morning at 6am. We hit zero traffic last year. We'll do dinner at my parents house with the entire family. We're adopting two labradors this weekend - so the house will be extra chaotic! Hopefully all the dogs will get along. Black Friday - hit Tysons when it opens, home by 9am, and then we caravan out to Christmas Tree farm to cut down the tree for my parents house. We'll decorate it that night, and eat leftovers. Then the three of us, (and the two new dogs) will drive back to Philly sometime on Saturday. Can't wait already!
Andrea Sachs: Impressive!
washingtonpost.com: Why Flying Now Can Kill, (Oct. 14, 2007)
KC Summers: Here's the link to the piece on the woman who died at the Phoenix airport. Thanks, Kim.
For the Dallas hotel seeker from last week: The W Hotel is across the street from American Airlines Center. There's a hotel in the West End area that is walkable, although you have to take the sidewalk under the freeway. (not scenic) There are also cheaper options along Stemmons Freeway (Courtyard, for example). I wouldn't recommend walking to AAC from there, but you could get a cab for less than $10.
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tip, and for remembering from last week. Much appreciated.
Hawaii Bound: Anyone hiked Diamondhead in Hawaii? I'm trying to figure out if it is suitable for small children (elementary school age).
Is it 100 continuous steps or is it a series of steps-uphill path-steps-uphill path?
Any other must sees off the beaten path in Oahu?
Scott Vogel: I remember trying it with a 2-year-old and almost passing out at the top after having carried him most of the way. As anyone could have told me, 2 is too young, but hardy children from about age 8 and up should be able to handle the climb. The most difficult part is those last 100 steps, which are continuous but quite steep. If that proves too challenging, there is a lookout area further down that makes for a nice consolation prize.
The beaches at Kailua aren't exactly off the beaten path, but the water is beautiful and the surf more placid than on the south shore -- i.e., great for kids. It sounds like this is a winter trip, so by all means take an excursion to the North Shore to watch the world-class surfing. On the way, there should be plenty of chances to see "old" Hawaii, towns and areas that remain, even now, untouched by Honolulu glitz.
Washington, DC: I pretty much agree with the seven regional wonders that were chosen, although I personally would have had the C&O canal on the list instead of the Lincoln Memorial. The C&O canal is an incredible feat of engineering, even more amazing when you consider that it was completed in the ninteeenth century. The Paw Paw tunnel in Western Maryland is simply an incredible feat of engineering itself. The tunnel is 3118' in length and was completed using black powder blasting and hand tools. Digging began in 1836 and the engineers believed that the tunnel could be completed in two years; it was finally finished FOURTEEN years later in 1850, thereby dooming the canal to irrelevancy due to the earlier completion of the B&O railroad.
KC Summers: Hi Wash, I agree that the C&O Canal is an amazing mid-Atlantic resource. I biked the whole thing more years ago than I care to admit -- what a great trip, tree roots and all. Going through the Paw Paw tunnel was indeed a highlight -- it was terrifying in a fun way. You literally could not see your hands in front of your face. Still, it's pretty hard to compete with the Lincoln Memorial...
Bowie, MD: Regarding the 7 local wonders, I guess I'm being disloyal to my hometown, but I really think that the "mid-atlantic" region doesn't/shouldn't include NYC. Should have been more "mid" - From Baltimore to the Carolinas. How can incredible structures like the Washington Monument or even Monticello be left out? I know, debates are the inevitable end results of "lists".....
John Deiner: Hey, Bowie. Good points, but we were also going after a four-hour driving range from D.C. in all directions -- and NYC, a super-popular destination for our readers, is just in that range. And four hours from DC barely gets you into North Carolina. As far as what got in and what didn't, all depended on the voters. I was a little surprised by Monticello's exclusion myself, but I think our readers did a great job.
Arlington, VA: The person going to Malta should be sure to see the ancient temple sites. The Hypogeum require tickets in advance and I arranged mine via email when I went a couple of years ago. Other temples are open air and do not require advance tickets. Most can be reached via public bus.
I think St. Julian's is not especially convenient to Valletta and the sites in the old town.
I bought lots of Maltese glass and had it shipped home.
Mdina is fascinating.
John Deiner: Hey, Arl. Good stuff. As far as I remember, St. Julian's is actually pretty convenient to Valleta -- just a quick bus ride, and we walked it a couple of times (beautiful if lengthy stroll along the water). And I'm still ticked I never saw the Hypogeum . . . next time, I guess!
Malaga vs. Santiago: Look forward to these discussions every Monday! My husband and I have friends in both Malaga, Spain and Santiago, Chile. We want to visit one set of them sometime late next spring. Problem is deciding which place to choose. In both places our accommodations will be taken care of. Our Malaga friends will likely be more available to take us around, whereas the Santiago couple may be a bit busier, leaving us to be on our own for a larger portion of the trip. What else should we be considering, pros and cons, etc.? Budget is definitely an issue. Thanks!
Gary Lee: Lucky You. What a choice. For starters, if budget is an issue, be aware that it's tough to get tickets to Chile for under $800 and that American citizens are required to get a visa to visit Chile at $100 each. That said, Santiago is colorful and interesting. (And once you get there, quite cheap.)
I would start a visit with a tour of the Pablo Neruda Museum, then fan out into the surrounding neighborhood which is full of interesting boutiques, bars and restaurants.
I do not know Malaga (can anyone give advice about it). Getting there is likely to be cheaper than getting to Chile, especially if you go in the off season. But the euro is really beating the hell out of the dollar and is not likely to get much better by next Spring.
Harrisonburg, VA: Hi,
We're a family of 3 (one 14 year old girl) thinking of spending Thanksgiving in the Carribean. None of us has ever been there before and don't have a clue where we should go. Our daughter is taking Spanish in school and we'd like to go where she could use her language skills (and show up Mom and Dad a bit.) We like outdoors activities, the beach, good food and history. None of us has any interest in shopping or casinos. Would you recommend Puerto Rico? Any recommendations for a hotel with activities for a teenager?
Andrea Sachs: Puerto Rico would be perfect and will keep your teenage so busy she won't even miss mom's pumpkin pie. I would recommend staying in Old San Juan or near the beach in Condado (try the Marriott, a lovely property with lots of activities). For outings, go to El Yunque rain forest, kayak in the Bioluminescent Bay, visit San Juan's fort and simply sit on the beach and let your daughter eavesdrop in Spanish.
Chevy Chase MD: For the 4 30 something girls weekend - don't forget Fort Lauderdale, reachable by Jet Blue. Accessible to Miami, and very laid back, pretty affordable. More $ for them to use shopping.
Glad to hear someone's over Vegas. Personally, it's my most unfav place in the US.
Andrea Sachs: Good suggestion. Really, anyplace in Florida would be good: St. Petersburg, Tampa, Palm Beach.
Philadelphia, PA: I hope it isn't too late to post this - I'm going to Tucson for a meeting, and was thinking of going the day before to visit Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Will one day be enough time to visit both? I don't think I can go two days before - that would be pushing it.
John Deiner: Hey, Phil. Seeing both in one day is pushing it (so much to see and do at both pl, but if you just want to get a glimpse and say you've been there, you can definitely do both in one day. That's a lot of driving, though.I 'd opt to spend more time at the Grand Canyon and take a more leisurely drive around than to rush to both.
Washington, DC (but right now, Centurion, SA): Help! I am currently in South Africa and am scheduled to fly air France out to Paris at 11:40 Wednesday, connecting to an Air France flight to London on Thursday. I then return from LHR to IAD via Paris on Air France on Sunday.
I heard that Air France may be joining the strike in France scheduled for Thursday. Should I worry? Have you seen any news on this? I can't seem to find any confirmation or not.
Cindy Loose: Just spoke with Air France and they said while they weren't expecting Air France employees to join the strike, the airline and airports in Paris "may be affected." Given that the strike includes workers in the rail,bus, power companies and gas companies, I'd guess it would have broad impact.
Washington, DC: My travel plans for Thanksgiving: drive five miles to my parents' house in Silver Spring. Woo!
Andrea Sachs: You lucky, pilgrim. Is there an extra seat at your table this year?
7 Natural Wonders: Did Longwood Gardens in Penn. get any votes??? Even if you aren't a flower lover this estate is worth the drive. The magnitude and the beauty is something to behold in the gardens and the 5 acre hothouse.
Elissa Leibowitz Poma: Longwood Gardens did receive votes in the first round, but not enough to put it on par with engineering marvels like the Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building. Having grown up in the Philly area, I've been to Longwood many times and can attest to its beauty. Christmas is a particularly lovely time.
Austin, Tex: I'm going to Japan for a week or so in early April, to visit friends who just moved to Tokyo. Any suggestions for not to be missed activities to keep me busy during the weekdays while my friends are at work? I'm considering taking the bullet train down to Kyoto for a couple of days mid-week, but am happy to hear anyone else's thoughts on how to spend my time in Japan. FYI, my command of the Japanese language is limited to a few basic phrases, so any suggestions of museums/sites that have English-speaking guides or signage would be appreciated. Hopefully I'll be there while the cherry blossoms are out, but, as you DC residents know, that can't be predicted too far in advance!
Christina Talcott: I would highly recommend taking the train to Kyoto. You can find English-language maps and bus info at the train station, and the trains are wonderfully fast and smooth. I had a fabulous time visiting the temples throughout Kyoto, exploring the Gion district, walking along a canal and getting lost, then finding my way again. I can't speak to places in Tokyo with good English signage, but maybe someone else can.
Arlington, VA: In yesterday's Outlook section, there was a story about the lousy customer service provided by USAir and Mesa Air. This was in reaction to the woman who accidently choked to death at the Phoenix Airport after not being allowed to board a plane due to being bumped. How bad is USAir? And do you recommend that passengers who do get bumped start filing suits in small claims court (the writer did file suit and settled with them). I've only been bumped once in my life, but I got on another flight in less than an hour.
KC Summers: That was interesting, wasn't it, that the author and her husband got even by taking the airline to Small Claims Court. I think that's a terrific recourse -- seems like the way to get airlines to pay attention is to get them where it hurts, in the pocketbook. To be honest, I haven't noticed that US Airways stands out as a worse offender than any other airline in this regard -- they all overbook, although the author of this piece claims US Air is the worst.
One proactive thing you can do is to pay attention to connecting flight times when booking. Don't trust a Web site or booking agent that the connection is doable -- make sure you build in time for the inevitable delays, etc. Also, know your rights. Read the airline's contract of carriage (available on airlines' Web sites) ahead of time. For example, you're entitled to cash if you're involuntarily bumped, so don't necessarily accept the offer of a voucher for a future free flight. They can be very hard to use due to blackout dates and other restrictions.
Other suggestions on how to cope with overbooking?
Stevensville, MD: I was interested in reading the Coming and Going column in yesterday's Post because I had a very similar experience with Delta at JFK on Tues. Oct 9th. We spent 5 hours sitting on the plane when the flight was cancelled. The pilot told us he had been cleared to fly to Dulles but that due to the long delay, he didn't have enough fuel and the crew was finished with its shift. The staff on the ground however claimed the cancellation was due to "Weather" and we spent the night in a cold terminal with no food available. I finally flew out to BWI the next morning, but Delta would not provide transportation to Dulles to pick up my car because ... you guessed it ... the cancellation was "weather related".
Cindy Loose: Hmmmm. Come to think of it, I assume that there's always stormy or windy weather somewhere in the world. The question is how did that weather in Timbuktu effect your flight in Cleveland. It's always possible there was some connection.
Alexandria, VA: Loved the article on Albuquerque yesterday. True story - when I was 15 yrs old (almost 40 yrs ago), my dad was working at White Sands in NM, so my sister (then 12) and I flew out to Albuquerque to see him that July. The 3 of us did a looping tour of the SW US that started and ended in Albuquerque. At the end of our trip, we took the tram to the top of Sandia. While in the Visitor's Center, a woman came over to my dad and asked if he was Bob Caruso. He said yes. The woman was my mom's cousin Joanie, who lived in Albuquerque and happened to be up at the top of Sandia w/her 4 kids (my second cousins). Hadn't seen them in years, and had forgotten they lived there, so neither of us had any idea the other would be there! We ended up over at their home that evening for an impromptu family reunion.
It was a "small world" trip. A week or so earlier, we passed thru Las Vegas and I ran into a classmate of mine at Circus Circus (I lived and went to school in St. Louis, MO). Circus Circus was the only casino that let kids in (though only into the arcade area). Weird but memorable trip...
Andrea Sachs: Thanks, so glad you enjoyed the piece. You are like the Kevin Bacon of the travel world.
Silver Spring, Md.: We made our Thanksgiving plans in June--we are flying to San Fran to see family. We bought our tickets in mid-August during a United sale. Because we are flying out Tuesday and coming back on Saturday, the flight out was covered under the sale. We spent about $500 per person.
Andrea Sachs: Not bad at all. Interesting how one or two days out makes such a difference in price.
Union Station area: Hey there flight crew, We are wanting to plan a trip to the Georgia Aquarium for the long February weekend, but have heard mixed reviews, is it worth seeing or should I be content with the Balt. Aquarium? You all are always so helpful and so are the other chatters!
John Deiner: Hey, Union Station. I've generally heard really good things about the aquarium (except for the price, which I believe is considerable!). We asked Ben Brazil, a natural-born skeptic, to tour the place when it opened a few years back, and he really enjoyed it. I'll post a link to the piece after this. If you do go, let us know!
Anyone familiar with the Georgia Aquarium?
washingtonpost.com: Atlanta Takes the Plunge, (Dec. 12, 2005)
John Deiner: And here's that link.
Washington: Of the three NY Wonders, which is your personal favorite? I vote for the Empire State -- been there countless times and never get tired of going to the top.
Elissa Leibowitz Poma: Well, personally? I dig the Chrysler Building much more than the Empire State Building. Just personal preference as to its style. Love the aerial views of it on CSI: New York.
Fear of heights keeps me from actually crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, but I love to admire its style. And I had no idea until researching the article how many of the workers suffered from The Bends just to build it. Hope that will win me some moolah on Jeopardy! one day.
Going to St Petersburg: Hi Flight Crew,
Have any of you ever been to St Petersburg, Russia?
We're considering a trip there to see the Winter Palace etc. When would be the best time to go, and do any of you all have personal experience/recommendations?
I studied Russian in St. Petersburg as a student and have visited it a good 20 times over the years.
And, as luck would have it, I was just there last week.
1. To get the best out of it, go between April and October, when the weather is more welcoming.
2. Count on spending a day in the Hermitage.
3. Take some time to see the Russian Museum. Although dwarfed by the Hermitage, has the best collection of art from Russian artists in the world.
4. The city's architecture is its crown jewel. If you can get a good tour of buildings in English, do it.
5. Take a day to tour the palaces around the city. A guided bus tour is the way to go.
I could go on -- this is one of the grandest cities in the world -- but that's good for a start.
Anyone else with St. Petersburg ideas?
Alexandria, VA: The Manhattan cruiser really should consider Amtrak or a bus. A whole lot more environmentally friendly and less stressful than finding and paying for parking (and driving that awful drive--ugh, 95N).
Scott Vogel: I'll second that suggestion. Penn Station (train) and Port Authority (bus) are both less than 2 miles from the terminal, and though a taxi from the station isn't cheap, that plus train/bus fare might be less than a week's worth of parking.
Silver Spring, MD: I just won a bareboat cruise to my choice of several locals:
British Virgin Islands
I'm definitely more of the outdoors-type rather than the "ooh, let's go shopping" type, and we are experienced sailors, but have never done the caribbean charter thing. What's your recommendation, since I get to pick one of them as home-port for a week?
Cindy Loose: You lucky, lucky person.
First off, you can't make a bad choice here.
However, if airfare is included or if money is no object, I'd pick the British Virgin Islands. There are so cool little islands that are very upscale and you wouldn't have to worry about the fact the hotels are expensive.
It would be much cheaper to fly to St. Martin, and that's a very nice place too.
St. Vincent is quite small, best known for cool little critters you can see when diving. I guess my question would be whether the cruise would also take you to other islands in that chain. If not, I'd stick with a bigger island.
Again, I don't see how you can go wrong.
Cville to MKE: That price ($365 I think it was) is not going to get any better! Buy it now! (My sister routinely pays close to $500 to get from Boston to Milwaukee over the holidays.) I once paid $350 from DC to MKE for Christmas...
Cindy Loose: Thanks---and tell your sister to check out this fare.
Re Rick Steves: Haven't been on one of the tours, but ran into one in Dublin a few weeks ago. They seemed to having great fun, and there were a bunch of people who were repeat RS tour-takers. BTW, we were using the Rick Steves guide for our self-guided trip around IRE and found it invaluable.
Andrea Sachs: Good endorsement: happy people.
Vietnam Visa: I have gotten several Vietnamese visas in the past year. Best suggestion is to send an email to the link on the visa website, firstname.lastname@example.org. They usually get back to you within two business days. I have found the requirements change pretty frequently, so you should not rely on other people's information. Also do not send your visa in, go to the office and submit it. You should get it back in three business days, it you pay extra for rush ($85). Finally, make sure you have all the required documents. I have been one of the unfortunate people that have waited in line, only to be turned away because I did not have the right forms or did not have a money order. Make sure to read the requirement's email very carefully, they are not very helpful at the visa office.
Cindy Loose: First hand, recent info always good. Thanks.
Arlington, VA: Hi, Flight Crew,
I'm going to Rome in late November/early December, and I will have 7 full days there. I'm planning on day trips to Tivoli and Ostia Antica, as well as hopefully a soccer game (AS Roma) one afternoon, and an opera and a classical concert on a couple of evenings. Am I budgeting my time well in terms of doing Rome itself justice, since I will have 4 1/2 days of sightseeing in the city?
Christina Talcott: That sounds like plenty of time to get a sense of Rome - it's such an atmospheric place, it practially sinks into your bones from the minute you arrive. As far as what to see, I wouldn't miss the Forum, the Colosseum and the Vatican, but if you like walking tours, going on one early on in your stay could help you decide where you want to spend more time exploring.
Kensington, Md.: I have a week (9 days) to spend in South America in March. I know I want to see Machu Picchu but where else is a "can't miss" destination? I would like to see as much as possible throughout the continent but I only have a short amount of time.
Scott Vogel: Hi. As it happens, we answered this question briefly in our Chat Plus feature in yesterday's paper (where we try to get to a query we couldn't answer during the chat.) Here's what we wrote. Hope it helps...
"Wendy Trouwborst of Peru Expeditions (011-51-1-447-2057, www.peru-expeditions.com), a tour company based in that country, says, 'The best way to plan a trip to Peru is to keep in mind that there is a great difference in altitude, so it is best to start low and end high.' For that reason, she notes, consider putting Machu Picchu and Cuzco at the end of your trip. You should also have time for a side excursion to the Peruvian Amazon ¿¿" to visit the rain forests along the Madre de Dios River, say, or canoe on Lake Sandoval ¿¿" or to the urban vibrancy of Lima. With regard to the Peruvian earthquake in August, Trouwborst says that the coastal cities of Ica and Paracas were particularly hard hit but that 'the roads are repaired and public transport is running as normal.'"
Harrisburg, PA (re: Japan): In Tokyo, the Edo Tokyo Museum has volunteer English language docents, as does the Shitamachi Museum (in Ueno Park, near the zoo and Tokyo National Museum). The Tokyo National Museum has good English signage and guide books. The JR Yamanote line (which circles Tokyo), has English language announcements and video displays on all the trains, so getting around is easy. The subways are a bit more confusing.
Christina Talcott: Great suggestions! Thanks!
Rochester, NY: In the "Seven Wonders" article, the architectural history of the US Capitol is deceiving and incomplete. Thornton designed only the original portion of the building, to the North of the central block. The dome and the House and Senate wings were designed by Thomas U. Walter and were built in the 1860s at the height of the Civil War.
As for the Lincoln Memorial, the statue is not "nearly 20 feet tall." That would be true only if Lincoln were standing.
Elissa Leibowitz Poma: Thanks for your note. According to the National Park Service, a standing Lincoln would be 28 feet tall. The seated statue, as it is right now, is 19 feet 6 inches tall and 19 feet wide. And good points about the Capitol: It was a huge collaborative effort.
Washington Grove, MD: We are planning to go to Lourdes and Paris between Christmas and New Years. The best airline fare I can find, from Dulles to Lourdes, then to Paris, and back to Dulles, is about $1200, which seems awfully high. Does that sound reasonable for that time of year or would you suggest I keep looking? Thanks!
Carol Sottili: Yup, it's high. But you have several things working against a lower fare. You're traveling in the busiest time of the year, when demand is way up. You're flying into a small airport that is not served by a discount carrier. You might save money by flying out on Christmas Day and returning New Years Day. Or you may consider taking the train from Paris to Lourdes, although it is a six hour journey each way and it doesn't sound as if you have much time. I'd just buy the ticket.
Arlington, VA: A.L. Bardach had a depressing story about USAir/Meas airlines habit of overbooking to the extreme. Are some airlines worse about this than others? Are there any statistics on being bumped and do you have any tips on how to avoid being bumped. Air travel just seems to get worse and worse.
KC Summers: See previous answer re tips on being bumped. Anyone else have tips to pass along? Or if it happened to you, how you coped?
For stats by airline, go to the Air Travel Consumer Report section (airconsumer.ost.dot.gov) of the Department of Transportation's Web site. US Airways is not the worst -- in the last stats I saw, Delta and Continental were worse. JetBlue is usually one of the best for non-bumping.
Hotel Tipping Protocol?: Am I supposed to tip the maid, and how much? I'm staying in New York City for business and really don't know what I'm supposed to do. Do I also tip everytime someone comes to the room, like to bring room service, and then to take it away? Thanks!
Gary Lee: Having worked, fleetingly, in the housekeeping department of the Ritz Carlton, I would say by all means tip the housekeeper. The amount should be $2- $5 a day, depending on how happy you are with the service and the level of the property.
As for room service, there is usually a pretty hefty service fee included in the rate.
Whether to tip every other person who comes into the room is up to your discretion.
Flight Changes: I booked a round-trip flight to Europe a couple weeks ago for a trip in the spring. I booked directly through the airline. I received an email from them yesterday saying that the schedule had been changed... no big deal, I thought, I get those occasionally and usually one of the flight times has been moved by an hour or so. This time I found that the return trip has been moved ahead two days! I've already made my hotel arrangements (actually a private villa), and they're for 8 nights, not 10 (and work schedules, etc, wouldn't permit me to stay 10 nights anyway). I'm planning to call up the airline, but what can I expect from them? What can I reasonably ask for?
Cindy Loose: Airlines are allowed by law to make changes, but if the change is "significant," which is usually interpreted to mean a change involving more than a couple hours, then the airline is required to give back your money if you so desire. Beyond that, anything they do is voluntary.
I'm wondering what could have occured to make them change a date by two days. If this is a major airline and not a small charter company, I'm thinking they overbooked and want to shove you onto a plane more convenient to them. I'd be very nice and calm but ask why, and can't they do something to accommodate you. But first, come to think of it, I'd go online to see what other flights they have that might work for you, and specifically ask about those flights. I'd also shop around before calling to see if there happens to be another flight that will get you where you're going for less money. That way, if your airline won't accommodate, then getting your money back would be a best bet. If that's the scenario that plays out, then deally, hold a booking on another flight for 24 hours, if possible, while making sure your current airline will give you back your money--as they are required to do.
Good luck--and by the way, it's a good idea to have asked what to expect before calling. Info is power at least sometimes.
Annapolis, MD: Your Albuquerque artice was good timing for me. I'm trying to plan a NM trip, most likely fly into Albuquerque and then go to Santa Fe, sometime next year, what is the best time to go? I don't want really hot conditions, nor really cold and will have a 3 yr. old with me. Is there really enough to do for a week or so? Or should I wait and go in ski season and take advantage of the snow? What is the skiing really like in NM? Thanks.
Andrea Sachs: Summer is hot and you will fry like an egg (I did). Spring and fall are perfect temps, though ABQ is almost always sunny year-round. You can definitely keep busy for a week if you visit both cities. I have only skied in Taos, which was steep and quad-burning. Sandia Peak has skiing (season starts Dec. 15), though don't expect super challenging conditions; the mountain has child care facilities in town.
Vienna for Bratislava: I can second the Flight Crew's recommendation for the Hotel Color in Bratislava. My spouse goes to Bratislava fairly often on business and has recently been staying there. It's slightly off of the beaten path and the furnishings aren't so nice but it's safe, clean, and comfortable and rather inexpensive.
Bratislava isn't a Vienna or Budapest but it's still nice. The old town is beautiful and the prices inexpensive-- 2 coffees cost less than a coffee in a Viennese cafe.
My only beef were the loud British lager louts that come in on the ultra-cheap flights just because it's cheaper for them to have their stag weekends in central Europe than at home! They were rather loud on my last trip there in the sidewalk cafes.
Gary Lee: Thanks for the thoughts. A walking tour of the old town is quite a good idea, too.
I know what you mean about the drinking crowd. They're starting to invade much of the former East Bloc.
For Malaga/Chile bound: Malaga is an OK city but its best feature is proximity to Granada and beach towns on the Costa del Sol. Late spring would be the perfect time to visit in terms of fewer crowds than mid-summer but with warm weather.
Gary Lee: Thanks for the thought.
Rick Steves: I've always considered Rick a bit nerdy, but all people who are experts in some field are somewhat nerdy. He definitely knows his stuff!
Andrea Sachs: I will take a knowledgable nerd over a clueless Adonis anytime.
US Air overbooking: Just want to comment on my experience - my husband and I were flying from DC to Venice Italy on USAir by way of Philadelphia. They bumped us from the DC to Philly portion of our trip (and were we told the Philly/Venice flight was overbooked as well). After watching a number of people attempt to offer their seats to bumped passengers get turned away by the USAir staff, we got in line to get rebooked for the same trip the next day. After waiting 2 hours, we were told that we would only get domestic vouchers, even though we were forced to miss an International flight. We had actually asked for our seat assignments for the Venice flight because we were willing to drive to Philadephia to make the flight, but they wouldn't give them to us....So, after many complaints, we now have a number of vouchers towards flights that I'm sure we will never get to actually use due to restrictions...I was the most frustrating travel experience we have had. We had paid a lot of money for travel on specific days, which made it even more annoying. As you reported, the staff also told us they always overbook flights.
KC Summers: That's really outrageous. And you're so right about the vouchers. Ordinarily this sort of thing happens when you book two separate connecting flights, and I would've advised you to book one airline all the way through in the future -- but you did that! Did you ever make it to Venice??
Arlington, VA: re: the Georgia Aquarium
I was there in March 2006 and enjoyed it. Took about an hour to see... would obviously take more time if you're going with little kids.
Great location, right next to the Coca-Cola museum's new building (a definite must-see in Atlanta) and Olympic Centennial Park, and a short walk from CNN Center, where you can go on a tour of the news studios.
John Deiner: Hey, Arl, thanks for chiming in. Only took an hour though, huh? And we sent Ben to the Coca-Cola thing as well -- and he really enjoyed that as well.
Nashville, Tenn: Hi -
We're heading to Grand Cayman for the holidays and have a seven hour layover in Kingston, Jamaica airport coming back to the U.S.
Is there anything we should try and check out while there as opposed to sitting in the airport bar?
Andrea Sachs: Stay at the bar, order some Red Stripes and listen to some Marley on your iPod. In other words, it's safest to see Kingston from the air.
Plans for New Years eve: Hi Flight Crew,
Please help! Me and a group of friends are tired of the expensive parties and crowded bars on New years eve. We would like to rent a place within 3 driving hours (4 max) of the DC area for a few days. Or if there's an easy and cheap flight somewhere that would be an option as well but considering the time frame we figured driving somewhere is our best bet. If you could go anywhere where would you go? Or do any of the chatters have recommendations? Please help. We only have a few months and we know we are behind. Thank you!!!
Carol Sottili: I'd have to know a little bit more about you and your friends to give you a good answer. If you're the outdoorsy types who like snowshoeing/skiing, perhaps you'd have fun in the Canaan Valley or Snowshoe (both in West Virginia). If you like restaurants/bars, Ocean City has become a big New Years destination (plus the Winterfest of Lights there is pretty cool). Anyone else have good ideas based on past experience?
Reston, VA: My Thanksgiving plans are, sadly, to join the masses heading north on the NJ Turnpike. Airfare between here and the NY metro area are astronomical except on JetBlue into JFK. And they'd have to pay ME to fly into Kennedy the day before Thanksgiving. . . .
I started looking up flights in June. I still check every week or so to see if some major deal has arisen, but nope.
John Deiner: Hey, Reston. Ack! But at least you won't be alone. I find it's not so bad IF you leave at the right time, and that's not at 2 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving. I'd rather get somewhere realllll late and bleary-eyed than to be stuck in traffic for hours. Best of luck!
Pittsburgh, Pa: A friend is coming to the US on business, and one day will have 3 free hours between a business lunch and a business dinner, in a town not even remotely noted as a tourist attraction (in another state, so I'm not familiar with it except for what I could Google). He's asked how he should try to spend the time, and the only idea I could think of was to have a cab-driver take him to a mountain on the edge of town, where he could walk around a bit (he'll be dressed for business, but could bring along a pair of walking shoes) and snap some photos overlooking the town.
What generic suggestions do the Flight Crew and chatters have for passing 3 hours in an unfamiliar town, that don't involve eating or drinking?
Christina Talcott: I'd bet that the town has a chamber of commerce, if not a visitors bureau, that's staffed with at least one person who thinks the town is absolutely FASCINATING. And it shouldn't be too hard to find that person: If you do a search on the town and "visitors," you might come across a tourist bureau, or you could find the local newspaper's website and poke around there for ideas. Every town's got hidden gems, whether it's a quirky independent bookstore, a walking tour of historic houses or a town museum. If he wants to wing it, tell him to talk to the restaurant staff and find out what they think is the town's can't-miss site. Only the surliest of teenagers will claim there's nothing to do there, no matter where he is.
Today's themes: Enjoyed the Albuquerque alrticle yesterday. My wife and I are interested in that area for retirement, though we haven't had the chance to go there yet. While there, did you visit any small towns witin a short drive from the city, such as the "artist colony" of Mountainaire?
Andrea Sachs: Sadly I did not have time to explore outside the city limits. But even the neighborhoods near the foothills were gorgeous--like a desert Malibu.
My thoughts on the woman's death: I think it's really terrible that someone volunteered to give up their seat for her, and the airline said no.
KC Summers: Yeah, I have an email in to the author about that question. I just assumed it was evidence of that "kick the dog" phenomenon where overworked, stressed-out airline employees just take it out on the passengers. But maybe there's more to the story. Will try to find out.
takoma park - AMTRAK roomette?: Has anyone taken one of those Amtrak roomettes for an overnight trip? We are about to bite, since it costs about the same or less than two airplane tickets plus a hotel room for the night, and HAS to be lower hassle.
Scott Vogel: Not sure where you're traveling to so it's difficult to give specific tips. I can tell you that I rented one of the roomettes for a trip from Washington to Orlando last year (traveling with a little one encouraged me to take the leap). The room itself was fine and the privacy alone was worth the money. In the end, my problems had to do with the train itself, and the freight tracks that Amtrak is forced to share with orange growers et al. The trip can be very slow-going and noisy (don't expect an unfettered night of slumber). But you know what? There was something wonderful about arriving in Orlando by train, and I'd do the whole thing again, which tells you something either about the mysterious appeal of Amtrak or my own (low) standards.
Philadelphia, PA: Will be driving the garden route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town next month and just realized I may need an international drivers license. Yes? How do I get one?
Andrea Sachs: You can get one at the American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. According to the State Department: To apply for an international driving permit, you must be at least age 18, and you will need to present two passport-size photographs and your valid U.S. license. The cost of an international driving permit from these U.S. State Department-authorized organizations is under $20.00.
Columbia, MD: I am starting to plan my honeymoon to be taken next July. My fiance and I would both LOVE to go to the South Pacific, however, while out budget is not small, we don't have a fortune to spend as well (approx 8k). Our travel agent brought up the Club Med on Bora Bora, but the reviews I have read on line are not spectacular. Have any of you ever been there or heard anything about it? We are looking for an all-inclusive if possible so other suggestions are more than welcome.
Andrea Sachs: Never stayed there. Any former Club Medders out there willing to review the property?
Arlington, VA: re: Israel
It's been a LONG time since I was there (summer of 1987), but here are some suggestions.
Go snorkeling in the Gulf of Aqaba when in Eilat. The beach and water are perfect and the fish are as colorful as ones you would see in the Caribbean. Also check out the aquarium, which is underwater.
Try "haggling" with some merchants in the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem.
Don't forget to get some falafel, hummus, and other good Middle Eastern fare. As good as some places in Paris, London, and Boston are, it's just not the same as when getting it in Israel.
Do NOT get any Dead Sea salt water in your eyes, and also beware if you have any open cuts. They sell some Dead Sea beauty products (Ahava?) if you have any female friends/relatives.
Make sure to go to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial.
Go on a pre-dawn hike up to Masada, so that you can watch the sunrise. Most spectacular sunrise I've ever seen, in part because of the setting.
The Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock were open for tourists when I was there. Very impressive, seeing the dome, the rock, the top of the Temple Mount, and walking around the complex.
If you're Christian (or if you're not but are intersted in history), you will want to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Via Dolorossa.
There's some excavation of a 3,000 year old street in Jerusalem... I forget exactly where, but maybe it's listed in your favorite guidebook.
Most of Jerusalem (and much of Israel) closes down on Friday nights.
The opera and symphony, both based in Tel Aviv, are top notch.
That's off the top of my head...
Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the suggestions!
Bethesda, MD: That was an absolutely appalling article about US Airways and Mesa Airlines overbooking practices. Other than wide publicity that will hopefully lead to no one's ever booking them again, can't anything be done about this? This isn't any way to run an airline!
KC Summers: I think it's as you say, that the outrage that will result from all the bad publicity may result in some positive changes for airline passengers -- like when all those JetBlue passengers were stuck on the tarmac.
re: Malaga: Malaga and the area from there to Gibraltar is a very built up tourist destination - lots of high rise apartments and hotel complexes - some newer and more attractive than others. You can make easy flight connections into Malaga from Madrid. I'm sure your friends will know the local secrets, but be sure to spend at least a day touring the white towns (Arcos, Heuleva, etc...) that are only a couple hours away.
Gary Lee: Much thanks for the valuable tip.
Oakton, VA: My wife, friends, and I are headed to Thailand for Thanksgiving for an 11-day trip. Round-trip business-class airfare on United for $1100 using upgrades, and we using points for our hotel room. We will be loooking for Turkey Pad Thai on November 22.
Andrea Sachs: Nice--turkey with peanut sauce. That should be delicious.
Traveler going to Rome: I studied abroad in Rome years ago and when my parents came for the week we went to Florence for the day and spent the rest of the time touring Rome. Literally, once they got off the plane and we met up I had them touring the city and seeing all the big sites (don't forget the Colisseum and the Pantheon is one of the most underrated monuments). I also took them to see my favorite church, go to my favorite restaurant, etc so they got to see the lesser known sites. You can do it in 4.5 days but it would be a rush. Have fun and I am so jealous!
Christina Talcott: Your parents must have been so happy to have you be their tour guide, and it must have been a blast to show them all your favorites. Any off-the-beaten-track recommendations for the Rome-in-4.5-days traveler?
re: Thanksgiving: Call me crazy, but I do the peak Wednesday afternoon/Sunday return (but only because it's a 1 1/2 hour nonstop flight). Plans have been in the works since last Thanksgiving - that's because I make it my mission to accumulate enough bump voucher money over the course of the year to underwrite the steep ticket price. Did the actual booking this go-around in June or July, I think.
Andrea Sachs: Yes you are crazy, but we are in awe of your courage.
Washington, DC: i'm confused on code share flights, if the flights are two separate flight numbers so that it's operated by two airlines, but the one airline where you get frequent flyer miles gives you no credit since they say they don't keep track of mileage flown on other carriers. But isn't that why they gave it their flight number? Same when your name on the reservation doesn't exactly match the name in the frequent flyer system, for instance, if the name on your passport doesn't read exactly like it does in their system, here again, get no miles.
Carol Sottili: Frequent flyer miles and code shares are tricky. There are so many different types of relationships between airlines, that it's almost impossible for me to comment on your particular situation. As for names not matching, that's simple enough to remedy.
Bareboot Cruiser: I've sailed around much of the Caribbean and hands down, the best place for sailing is the BVI. Just wholeheartedly seconding your recommendation.
Andrea Sachs: And I third it. We sailed there in April and it was spectacular.
Alexandria, VA: For the New Year's Eve poster - I know you said you're sick of crowded bars, but have you considered Dewey Beach? My husband and I did New Year's at the Rusty Rudder 2 months after we got married. Went with some friends from my beach house. Our favorite band was playing and it wasn't too, too crowded or too cold, and we had a blast! I hear some of the other local bars (Starboard?) have New Year's parties too.
FWIW, we were in our mid-30's at the time.
Carol Sottili: Dewey Beach is a great place for young couples and singles. I wouldn't go there if I were much past my mid-30's, but it's a fun party town.
Washington, DC: I just returned from a week divided between Montreal and Toronto. Loved both cities--the older, European feel of Montreal and the modern, busy vibe of Toronto. Great shopping and eating in both, particularly Beer Bistro in Toronto. Everyone we met was very friendly.
One warning: I set off the metal detector at the Montreal airport, and I think it might have been my new passport.
Andrea Sachs: Never heard that one before. You sure it wasn't your belt buckle or metal fillings?
Ashburn, VA: My best friend is moving back to his homeland of Venezuela. Ideally, I'd love to go visit him next year. The State Dept site basically says if I go, everything bad in the world will happen to me. Is this really true? It is a beautiful country and I don't want to be scared to go.
Cindy Loose: You're right that the site's warning about violent crime is a bit disconcerting, but the State Department is cautious about warning about possible problems overseas. I take their info very seriously, but compare the Venzuela warnings about violent crime to other countries. Here's what I'd say: If there the State Department has a travel warning up on a given destination, I wouldn't choose htat country for a vacation without some extremely compelling reason. There is no travel warning about Venezuela. (Understand the State Dept. might give warnings about traveling to a place, but a "travel warning" is a specific designation.) The second designation of "public announcement," in which the State Department singles out either a country or a part of a country for special warnins--again, justa warning, not a "travel warning." I'd think twice about those places for vacation. Again, there is not "public announcement" for Venezuela. If the State Department thinks an American shouldn't go somewhere, they come right out and say it: "Defer all travel," etc.
Bottom line: I'd go to Venezuela, and follow the advice to be careful about crime.
Alexandria, VA : Re: the Vietnam visa, we contacted the embassy and they emailed us the most current forms. It's a bit of a process, but if you follow the instructions to the letter it's not a problem. You need to mail (certified mail)your application along with a money order, your passport and a self-addressed envelope stamped envelope. I went ahead and paid for a priority mail envelope for the return. took about 2 weeks to get our passports back.
Cindy Loose: Thanks for Vietnam advice. Great place to visit in my book, by the way
Washington, DC: Dear Flight Crew,
I am planning a trip for late February to ski at Whistler, BC. I believe that one of you has been there and was looking for any tips or recommendations you could make. We are hoping to book our lodging this month so that we can keep our spending to a reasonable level. Do you or the chatters have suggestions for food and lodging options that are not really expensive? Thanks for your help!
Andrea Sachs: Since the dollar here and up there is so close, deals could be hard to come by. Unfortunately, we don't have any suggestions, but would love some feedback from the chatsters.
State of Indecision: I'm considering taking a weekend trip next month to celebrate a big birthday. My first choice is Seattle -- I've always wanted to visit there, although I can't figure out exactly why (maybe because "Frasier" was one of my favourite shows?). Anyway, is this a good choice for a weekend in November? And what are your top picks for things not to be missed there? Thanks a lot for your always helpful advice!
Gary Lee: Even though November is likely to be a bit wet, I suggest that you go for it. It's a cool city with an upbeat, youthful vibe.
Here are a few things you should try to squeeze in.
1. The Space Needle. It's a bit touristy but worth the thrill.
2. Take a free tour of the historic and colorful 5th Avenue Museum.
3. Hang out in some of the music clubs. The bands are really funky and the beer is great.
4. If you can get out of town, hope over to Snoqualmie Falls, a 25 miles down the road.
Vero Beach, Fla.: Austin, Tex. should have a fine time in Kyoto. The Teramachi arcaded shopping street is wonderful in the evening, and has a superb Japanese print shop and a nice contemporary art collective toward its north end.
There is no great need in Kyoto to visit the "best" temples. If an appointment to one of the Imperial Villas can be wangled, it's a real privilege.
The Economist magazine has a nice short list of things to see in Tokyo. Kateigaho magazine often has useful stories on what to see, albeit from a sort of upscale, feminine perspective. For history, I'd suggest "Edo, the City That Became Tokyo", a wonderful illustrated book that explains the old city upon which the new is built.
Christina Talcott: Great suggestions! Thanks!
For the Columbia honeymooners:: Have you considered taking a South Pacific cruise? Princess operates the Tahitian Princess on itineraries in French Polynesia -- I'm not positive they'll be going in July, but I'm pretty sure the fares are less than $4K per person. There is also a ship called the Paul Gaugain (not a Princess ship) that sails in that area, but I believe their fares are higher than the Tahitian Princess.
Andrea Sachs: Good idea. Thanks!
Washington, DC: Your discussion of the Gotbaum tragedy and overbooking accepts overbooking as a given. Why? How do the airlines get away with selling a seat twice? If I pay for a concert ticket my seat belongs to me. The hall can lock me out if I show up late, but they can't sell my seat to someone else. If I have paid for my airline ticket, on what basis can the airline sell my seat to someone else and turn me away? And if they do sell it, why aren't the required to give me back the money I paid? Why isn't this whole thing an outright fraud?
KC Summers: Well, they are required to put you on another flight within a certain amount of time, and if not, to pay you in cash (not just vouchers for free flights) This is the one case where airlines are required by law to give you monetary compensation. They are also required to ask for volunteers. And as they get more and more desperate, you can negotiate for more perks. Theoretically this al works out, but because of all the cutbacks and consolidated flights, it clearly isn't working anymore.
DC to NY at Thanksgiving: I've been taking Amtrak from NY to DC a lot and would recommend it for the person going from DC to NY at Thanksgiving. I'm with you - you can't pay me enough to fly the Wed before Turkey Day but Amtrak has been pretty convenient. And with the problems at the airport, even the 3 hour 20 min regional service isn't really that much longer than a flight. Plus I usually use a dicount code from Flyer Talk to make it less expensive.
John Deiner: Good point -- that's a great suggestion. I'm wondering if the person just wanted to have a car handy, but he/she was willing to fly up there. So . . . how could I forget Amtrak? Thanks for the nudge.
Washington, DC: Re Atlanta Aquarium - sadly not an educational experience whatsoever. Stick with Baltimore
Re Israel - they take security very seriously. if you live in DC you're used to metal detectors and random bag checks. same rules apply there
Re Thanksgiving - got tickets to Atlanta a few weeks ago. Not great prices but direct!
John Deiner: Thanks, DC.
Washington, DC: Hello. I'm thinking of traveling to Barcelona and Seville during Christmas week. I realize that many stores and tourist sites will be closed during that time, but was wondering how much of an effect it would have. Are December 24-26 going to be relegated to walking around and looking at museums, restaurants, etc. from the outside? In a worst case scenario, will it be difficult to find open restaurants (even casual) on Christmas Eve and Day?
Gary Lee: You won't be able to find many if any shops open during the 24-26 days. Restaurants should be open though, especially those located in hotels. I think those days would be excellent for touring churches and cathedrals. There are some excellent ones in both cities.
Silver Spring, Md: I've seen a number of references now to people saying US Air wouldn't let passengers give up their seats to other passengers who had been bumped. What the heck is that about? Is this obnoxious policy specific to US Air? Why on earth would they not let passengers give up their seats if they're offering to???
KC Summers: This is the part of the story I'm not clear on, and I've got a message in to the writer who's more familiar with the case. An overbooked airline is required by law to ask for volunteers to be bumped, so I don't get this either -- if it's true that passengers volunteered and were turned down. Perhaps it was too late in the boarding process, or some such.
Arlington, VA: re: Georgia Aquarium
Yes, I needed only an hour to see it. It's 5-6 themed sections.
If the questioner's asking about going because they will have little kids with them, then, yes, definitely go (along with the zoo, which is also a big hit with the munchkins).
But, if the questioner is asking how it stands up to Monterey, New England Aquarium, the Shedd in Chicago, or the National Aquarium in Baltimore, I would say skip it.
John Deiner: Wow. That's a great postscript, coupled with the note I just posted about skipping it.
US Air to Venice again: We did make it -the next day...The whole trip was on US Air. They said they bump people who book on websites such as orbitz and such more often than those who book directly through them.
KC Summers: What we always suspected. Thanks!
International Driving Permit: How long is a permit from the AAA valid for?
KC Summers: One year.
Thanksgiving: I think I win -- I booked with my SWA Rapid Rewards credits and am only paying security and 9/11 fees to fly from BWI to Islip on Thanksgiving Day (morning) and back the Monday after. Parking will cost me more then the whole flight!
Andrea Sachs: Nice! Love to hear that you outwitted them and won't have to pay $1,200 to fly 90 minutes.
Amtrak: Amtrak is not necessarily lower hassle than flying. A couple of years ago my train from South Bend, IN to DC was cancelled. For no good reason (I'm guessing it was just too epmty, it being a random September Saturday), and the next train was only 24 hrs later. And they are definitely slow. Delays of 2, 3, 4 hours are the norm for long trips. That being said, if I had a roommette...I may have been a happier traveler!
Scott Vogel: Yes, those are the age-old problems with Amtrak, and sadly, they stubbornly persist. The company will never know how many train lovers they could have snagged with a better on-time record...
Arlington, VA: Thanks Travel Crew and Chatters for the suggestions for a "local honeymoon" several weeks back. We're booked for Keswick Hall--can't wait! Now, for all you Charlottesville specialists out there, tell me your off-the-beaten path suggestions for fun things to do. We're booked at Clifton Inn one night for dinner, but we're looking for some "grubby but good" types of lunch places. Also, daytime activities (outdoor preferably) would be much appreciated. Thanks!
KC Summers: I love the C&O restaurant. Just wander around the Downtown Mall, there are tons of options. Closer to the University, the White Spot is grubby but a legend!
Andrea Sachs: Well, the hour has sped by and hopefully we answered all of what you asked. If not, come back and see us next Monday and we can do it all over again.
For the holiday planning question, we chose the traveler who's only paying for parking. You made us proud with your clever arrangement. Please email me at email@example.com with your address and I will send you a prize.
Have a great week!
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