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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, June 23, 2008; 2:00 PM

Got a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel Section Flight Crew is at your service.

On the itinerary this week: why you shouldn't believe the bad news about Detroit; how Hamburg created beaches right in the middle of the city; and where early birds can get breakfast on the way to the shore.

All other travel topics are open as well. If you have insights, ideas or information to add to the discussion, just press the call button above your seat and we'll get to you as soon as we can. 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.

A transcript follows.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions. For daily dispatches, check out Travel Log, the Travel section's new blog.

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Christina Talcott: Hello, chatters, and happy Monday! It's a bittersweet Monday here because it's John's last week in Travel, and this is his last Flight Crew chat. Throw him your toughest questions, wish him farewell, and stay tuned for another hour of rapid-fire travel Q-and-A, when we field your questions, answer what we can and solicit advice from all you travel experts out there.

Today, in addition to John and me, we have Scott, Andrea, Carol and Weekend's own Ellen McCarthy, who wrote yesterday's story about finding a happy place in Detroit, which was named "America's Most Miserable City" by Forbes Magazine. I was looking at the list of other "miserable" cities, which were determined by the unemployment, inflation and tax rate, plus commute times, weather, crime and the presence of nearby toxic waste sites. Motown's hometown rated highest on this ranking system, followed by Stockton, Calif.; Flint, Mich., New York City; Philadelphia; Chicago; Los Angeles; Modesto, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C. and Providence, R.I.

New York? Chicago? Seriously?

It got me thinking: Have you ever visited a place that you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving? My favorite post wins a twofer prize from our Box o' Promotional Junque: a deck of cards and a T-shirt from Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Everyone on board? Then let's go!

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Anonymous: Why do we put up with airlines reporting fares as "$XXX plus taxes"? We should only care what the amount is that we (the consumer) will have to pay, not how it's divvied up.

Scott Vogel: I'm with you, Anonymous. It's not as if there's any way to avoid paying those taxes and fees. Furthermore, it's bad enough that the prices are high, but when they set you up with the old "$499 to London" thing, which adds insult to injury when you eventually find that the trip's 1300 bucks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Travel Gurus: I'm trying to plan a last minute trip to NYC at the end of August. I need to find a hotel around $150/night w/ private bath. for my father and me. I've tried the Leo House and Seafarers. Any ideas? I had no idea the end of August would see full hotels in NYC. Help!

washingtonpost.com: We'll Take Manhattan - for Less Than $200 a Night (Post Travel Section, May 7, 2006)

Christina Talcott: Here are some more New York hotel suggestions. Anyone else have some tips for a late-August New York stay?

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washingtonpost.com: In Motown, Stop in the Name of Hope (Post Travel Section, June 22)

Christina Talcott: Here's Ellen's Detroit story from yesterday.

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Extreme Travel Trivia: This is a trick question, isn't it? There is NO town East of Howley, NL!

I'm very sorry to see this go. I've had a lot of fun with it over the years. If anyone ever gets an inkling to restart it, I know I'm not the only reader who would be very pleased.

John Deiner: There is a town!! Look closer in the big National Geographic atlas. And I'll let Kitty know how you feel -- she's been a joy to work with.

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Quick Tour of Japan : I'm staying in Kobe from September to January. My parents plan to visit in late October. Could you recommend a good tour company that specializes in brief 3-4 day tours of select Japanese cities (say Kyoto and Tokyo)?

Christina Talcott: We had a story about Kyoto tours back in January (link coming up), and here's the info on Japan tour operators we ran in our Way to Go issue in February:
· General Tours, 800-221-2216, http://www.generaltours.com. The Japan National Tourist Organization says this tour operator sells more trips to Japan than any other. Its variety of tours and experience make this a good choice for the first-time traveler to Japan.
· Kintetsu International Travel Consultants, 800-422-3481, http://www.japanforyou.com. Based in Japan but with U.S. offices, Kintetsu offers discount airline and railway tickets, package tours and group tours. Suggested itineraries on the Web site include a sake brewery tour.
· Tauck Tours, 800-788-7885, http://www.tauck.com. This upscale operator's escorted "Essence of Japan" trip takes you off the beaten path -- for instance, to the Shirakawa-go region, where traditional thatched-roof A-frame farmhouses dot the mountain landscape.

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washingtonpost.com: Guides and Guidance in Kyoto: A $350 Bargain ( Post Travel Section, Jan. 6)

Christina Talcott: For the Japanese tour seeker.

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Rockville, Md.: From last week, speaking up for Iceland: I traveled there last summer (single 27-year-old female alone), when the exchange rate was better but not great, and I had a good time. I stayed in a bed-and-breakfast that I found through one of Reykjavik's tourism sites. The woman who ran it gave me input about what to do during my time there, and when she found out (ahead of time) that I was vegetarian, she went out and bought huge amounts of food for my breakfast, then pressed fruits and yogurt drinks on me to take along during the day. I spent most of my days subsisting on yogurt drinks from grocery stores and on Luna bars brought from home, but I had dinner every afternoon at a different vegetarian restaurant -- pricier than most veg restaurants I'm used to, but they all load your plate with food to make up for that. As for tourist stuff, it's a cool area if you're into history, especially of the sort we never learn about in American schools: there's a museum located six feet under the center of town, where they found what may be the country's oldest surviving Viking longhouse; the National Museum is vast, really thorough, and, I think, recently overhauled; and I got a personal tour of the Culture House simply by showing up at the assigned tour time and asking them to give the tour even though I was the only one there. As for outside Reykjavik, I can't imagine having rented a car -- they have a lot of companies giving tours of the surrounding natural wonders, and these may not be cheap, per se, but it's worthwhile not to have to worry about navigating roads that are younger than half of the country's inhabitants and have "sheep crossing" signs all over them. In short, I really enjoyed my stay, and for anyone who goes there, I'd recommend talking with locals to get a feel for what to do, since everyone seems to like the tourist industry. Also, wear sunscreen -- the sun may not be all that warm up there, but it's fierce.

John Deiner: Thanks, Rock. Iceland definitely has a lot of fans.

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Detroit, Mich: Would you go back to Detroit and see more of the city and the suburbs? In Detroit, "Detroit" sometimes means the suburbs too due to the fact that Ford is HQed in Dearborn and Chrysler is HQed in Auburn Hills, where also the Pistons play. Also, when/if you back stop by a Coney Island to get a Coney dog (NOT from NYC!), drink a Faygo pop (It's pop here NOT soda!), and try a Boston Cooler (Again, NOT from Boston!). I am happy here in Detroit. Though I am from the suburbs (there is friction between suburbanites and city-dwellers), I hope one day to move to the city. Thank you for coming here and seeing what it is really like, a lot of suburbanites wouldn't do what you did! Sad, eh?

washingtonpost.com: In Motown, Stop in the Name of Hope (Post Travel Section, June 22)

Ellen McCarthy: Thanks for the note. I would definitely go back. If we'd had more time, we would've headed into the suburbs, which I understand are totally part of the fabric of the region. And I'd like to see the rest of Michigan -- Ann Arbor, etc. It was a fascinating place, though, and we really did have a great time. Also, I will need more of that saganaki cheese!

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Rental Car Question: This may be a terribly basic question, but I've always rented cars by contacting companies directly. Would I get a better deal (and just as reliable a vehicle) by going through one of the online services like Priceline? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Short answer: Yes. You can sometimes find a better deal on a site like Priceline (try Hotwire), and it's just as reliable. If I'm anxious about picking up a car at a certain time, I usually call the rental office before I show up just to make sure they've got a car ready for me.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Crew -

We're off to NYC this weekend to meet with family in from CA. We will have my pre-schoolers, my 10 year old nephew, several adults in their 40s, and my parents in their early 70s. We are all staying near Grand Central Station. Do you (or the chatters) have any suggestions for family friendly restaurants, fun playgrounds, interesting sightseeing, museums, or other activities for some or all of us? We're open to anything fun or interesting.

thanks!!

washingtonpost.com: Family-friendly suggestions from the 2008 Day in New York package: It's One Big Playground (Post Travel Section, May 4).

Christina Talcott: Thanks, Elizabeth! Any chatters have more suggestions?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Is Amtrak the best option for a long-weekend getaway to NYC or is the bus a viable option? Where should I look and how much should I expect to spend leaving either Thursday or Friday afternoon/evening and returning early Monday or Tuesday?

washingtonpost.com: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Post Travel Section "A Day in New York" package, May 4)

Andrea Sachs: I am a fan of Amtrak's comfort and speed, but if your wallet is tight, the bus is the way to ride. Amtrak fares start at $69 one way, depending on time and day; fares on new operators Megabus and BoltBus start at $1. The bus also takes a little longer than the train.

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flights to Minnesota and Germany: Hi Flight Crew,

We have a wedding to attend on August 9 in Minneapolis and the flight prices from NYC seem super-expensive ($450+!). Is there any point in waiting to book in case fares go down? Similarly, planning a trip to Germany in mid-Sept. Can I expect fares to go lower than $750 NYC to Frankfurt? Or am I being unrealistic? Thanks.

Carol Sottili: If you could stay until Tuesday, those flights to MSP would be much cheaper. I found a $301 round trip with all taxes at www.suncountry.com. I'm guessing that you're seeing such high fares because you want to come home on Sunday. Fares are usually more expensive for Sunday flights. And $750 round trip from NYC to Frankfurt, as long as that includes all taxes and fuel surcharges, is about right. British Airways has a cheap sale to London for fall travel, but it may still all add up to $750 once you add discount flights to Frankfurt (you'll also have to get from Heathrow to one of the smaller London airports).

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Falls Church, Va.: Hello! Have you heard anything about The Chelsea - a new hotel opening in Atlantic City this summer? They have some good introductory rates and we're considering for a girls weekend, but wondering if it will be as nice as it looks. Thanks.

John Deiner: Hey, Falls. The Chelsea is actually the next big deal in AC, and the buzz has been good. Read a piece in the New York Times about it recently; the hotel's owners/designers want to bring a bit of New York chic to the gamblin' town. I'd definitely give it a try, though I'd give it a few weeks after opening to shake off any jitters.

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Baltimore, Md.: Last year, my college-student son did a semester abroad in Paris. Right now, he is traveling around South Korea with a Korean friend from his study abroad. His emails tell me that it's a fascinating place, with almost no non-Asian people. Children point at him; adults want to shake his hand and practice their English. The Korean people are very friendly, and it's very cheap to visit museums and eat in restaurants. The airfare was costly ($1350 round trip) but other than that, it sounds like a great vacation destination that most Americans never consider.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the report! I'm glad he's having such a great time. Funny how travel to one place can open up travel opportunities to somewhere else.

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Washington, D.C.: town I liked more than expected: Guayaquil, Ecuador, where iguanas run around like squirrels and $5 buys you a friend for life or a ride to the airport, whichever comes first. Nice IMAX theater on waterfront.

Christina Talcott: Sounds like a fun place!

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Qatar Airways: In an earlier chat I saw that someone had a question about Qatar Airways. I would absolutely recommend Qatar Airways. Their planes are comfortable, have individual TVs w/on demand movies, decent meals and I've never had a delay or overbooking problem. They make those hellish 14 hour flights bearable. I fly them often because of the overseas location I'm working. No I do not work for Qatar Airways.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the recommendation!

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Columbia, Md.: Planning a big (to us!) trip starting in Seattle for which I'd love some advice - the cast is me, my husband, and a 18 and 20 year old. We're flying Southwest to Seattle, then I'm not sure where to go. We have 7 nights. My plan was to go to Vancouver, Victoria, and then back to Seattle. The younger crew has branded Victoria "totally lame" - mostly because they've never heard of it. We were also thinking about ditching them for one night or two - where would be a reasonable side trip for just the adults? I feel pretty comfortable leaving them in either city.

What's the best way to get around? Rent a car? Ferry? Rail? Despite internet searching I simply can't figure out how to get from Seattle to Vancouver on public transit.

Scott Vogel: Sounds like fun! If you've never been to Seattle before, a substantial number of those 7 nights should be spent exploring that terrific city, especially its culinary offerings. I agree that Victoria generally holds more appeal for the older set, so you might consider that for your adult excursion. As for getting around, by all means check into Amtrak's Cascades route, which goes south from Seattle to Portland, and north to Vancouver, BC.

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Columbia, Md.: Just wanted to let you know we took the Megabus this weekend from White Marsh, Md. to New York City. Aside from a little confusion on the return trip (too many buses from 2 companies lined up on 31st Street) it was a pleasant ride. My question is: How can they stay in business with such low fares? We paid $44 for two round trips.

Andrea Sachs: Good to hear that you had a successful bus ride. As for the business question: One can only hope they stay in business. When I tried doing the math (number of passengers x fare, minus gas prices), it did not add up, but I was never a whiz at numbers. However, competitor BoltBus broke even last month, so, maybe there is a future in $1 bus operators.

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travel and taxes: um, all prices in the U.S. are marketed without the tax factor. not true everywhere, but true here in all parts of the country. Now on the other hand, I DO take exception to the "$xxx each way, based on r/t purchase" nonsense. That's a mess, because if I only wanted to go one way, that isn't what my price would be.

Scott Vogel: True, but your local sales tax is a pittance by comparison to the taxes and fees added to airline fares, and doesn't usually prove a deal-breaker, unlike in the case of air travel.

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Washington, D.C.:

Hi! Sorry to hear that Kitty Thuermer is leaving -- are you going to try to replace her (I'd be happy to volunteer), or is she truly irreplaceable?

Also, has anyone ever won the Travel Trivia contest two or more times? Unlike the Style Invitation, this does not seem to have repeat winners.

John Deiner: Hey, DC. To the best of my knowledge, there have been numerous repeat winners. After 445 contests, you start to lose count. I was Kitty's editor for the past near-decade, and she's been a peach. But since I'm leaving as well, it'll be up to the new editor, whomever that may be, to decide where to go next with the contest, if at all.

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Washington, D.C.: So I'm going to Ireland for Thanksgiving. I'll have 7 days -- flying into Shannon and out of Dublin. I plan on spending the last two days in Dublin. But where should I spend the first five? I realize the weather won't be very good, so hiking and the likes are probably out. Should I stick to more urban areas like Cork or Limerick and enjoy the pub culture? (I've been to Dublin and Wicklow before, but that's the limit of my Ireland experience.) Thanks!

Ellen McCarthy: Oooh, I'm so jealous. And I actually think November is a great time to be in Eire. There are fewer tourists, so you'll get great rooms everywhere and you won't be over run by other Americans. If you have five days and you're starting in Shannon your should definitely spend several of them on the West Coast. Maybe head to Galway your first night for great music and nightlife, then up to Connemara for stunning views of the countryside. Clifden is a great little town to park for the night. Then head south to Tralee or Killarney. And put Kinsale, in Co. Cork, on your list -- it's a magical little seaside town. Then you'll have done a good loop up to Dublin. Slainte!

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Silver Spring: John's leaving, too?!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! What's going on there??

John Deiner: Oh, it's just the natural ebb and flow, I guess. There's still a fab group here that'll be fighting over your questions next week.

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Alexandria, Va.: Holiday Travel...it's early to be thinking Christmas, but as fuel prices and airfare increase, I thought I'd look now. Must visit family in Florida (JAX or GNV) and prices range from $400 on USAirways to almost $800 on Delta (leave Dec 23, return Dec 28 or 29). Should I lock in at the "low" price of $400 now or it is so early that prices may go down?

Carol Sottili: You may want to try Orbitz's new price assurance program. If you buy your airline ticket through them, and the price goes down, they'll send you a refund. $400 sounds high, but if you need to travel on specific dates over the Christmas holidays, you may not get sale fares. Also, have you looked at Southwest fares from Baltimore?

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Reston, Va.: Perfect timing on the article about saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium. After reading it, I decided to get my dad tickets to a Yankees game for Father's Day (game Sat afternoon in Sept) and now I just need to figure out where to stay (planning to arrive Saturday and stay until Sunday) and the best way to get there to ensure we're at the stadium before the first pitch (Rail, flight to JFK, or flight to LGA?). Any suggestions about where to stay? And, what's your preferred mode of transportation to get to NYC?

washingtonpost.com: Lots of good NYC info in the Travel section's 2008 NYC guide: A Day in New York.

Christina Talcott: I guess it depends on where you want to spend the night: near the stadium or somewhere else in the city? Looks like there's a Howard Johnson near the stadium starting at around $125 a night. As for getting there, I'd opt for a bus (the new Megabus and Bolt Bus are cheap and fast, or try Greyhound or one of the buses on ivymedia.com for a Vamoose or Chinatown bus). Anyone have experience getting from DC to Yankee Stadium for an afternoon game?

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A travel agent: Prices are $$$ PLUS TAXES because the amount of taxes can (and does) change. I absolutely agree that the advertising is unclear, and they could at least give an estimate... but there would still be people who'd be upset about the taxes going up. You can't please everyone all of the time!

Scott Vogel: Good point -- and I agree with you that some effort should be made to provide an estimate...

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Reston: I expected to hate Las Vegas and actually had a blast. My family started doing an annual "pre-Xmas" trip to Vegas (the weekend just before Xmas) and usually 5-6 of us go - my first trip saw 9 of us, as a few of my own friends joined in.

I wouldn't want to stay more than a few nights, but it's good fun for a few days. Even if you don't like to gamble, the shopping at that time is AMAZING (many designer stores have clearance sales just before Xmas, at the Forum Shops) and there are some nice day trips from there too.

Christina Talcott: Wow, a Vegas convert! Great tips on the sales!

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Columbia, Md.: Not me, but my husband's sister - Ocean City, Md. Never been to the beach, never seen the ocean, whined incessantly when we decided to go. Told us she knew she would hate it, it was lame, it sucked. About 30 seconds after she sees the water, she kicks off her shoes and runs in. Amazed by the rides, squealed in delight like a five year old when she saw the ponies at Assateague.

Later, when we were teasing her, she very seriously informed us that we never told her it was fun.

Christina Talcott: Ha! That's great.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew, I'm looking for websites to rent apartments in Europe (Spain, specifically) for my honeymoon next summer. I've been to VRBO.COM, but I would appreciate some others.

Thanks.

Scott Vogel: I've heard good things about VRBO. Another company whose name comes up consistently is Rentalo.com.

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Rental Car Comment: I've found amazing deals on Hotwire, but the catch is that you have to pay upfront. If you have any question about whether or not you will need the car, this is not the way to go. Typically when I rent a car, I search for the lowest price on Expedia. I'll then run a Google search for coupons for the lowest few companies to see if I can do even better--usually I can. Then I book directly through whatever company is lowest once coupons are factored in. A bit time consuming, but I usually find that it ends up being worth it.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the pointers. You're right about paying upfront - I'd forgotten that.

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Sterling, Va.: Speaking of taking the Amtrak to NYC for a long weekend, what's the best way to get to Union Station? You can't park overnight at a Metro station. What's the parking like at Union Station? Is that viable for 4 nights or so? Or should I try to taxi or something to a Metro stop and then take that in?

John Deiner: Hey, Sterling. There's parking at Union Station but it's exorbitantly expensive. I'd taxi or get a ride to the Metro and then take that in.

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Arlington, Va.: re: places you didn't expect to like. Actually my picks are a couple from your "miserable" list. I avoided NYC for many years because on a previous trip there it was just so dirty and awful. But I went again a couple of summers ago (twice!) and really enjoyed it a lot. I would happily return there again if I had a good reason. Also, Philly would be on that list although it is declining again. I grew up about an hour from Philly and still have scary memories of a fifth grade class trip to the "big city." I also went there again for the first time about two years ago and really liked downtown a lot. Last year it was starting to look a bit beaten down again though. There is so much great food in Philly though that that alone is reason to go back. Partly that may be due to my upbringing on that sort of food which may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Christina Talcott: So, are you a pork sandwich or cheesesteak fan?

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Detroit, Mich.: I loved the Detroit travel piece. Very honest and creative. It captured much of the reason I didn't remain in the utopia of Boulder, Colorado and returned to the city I grew up in to be part of its rebirth, to be part of its stark truths. Ellen McCarthy closes the piece with a reference to the Latin motto on the city plaque, "We hope for better things. It will rise from the ashes." (created around 1805) It is this same seal and quote upon a wonderful tile from Pewabic pottery that I have on my mantel. Until then I enjoy the heart, soul and wrath that often comes out of this city. Ellen, you did an incredible job!

Ellen McCarthy: Gosh, thank you. That's very generous of you. And thanks for sharing your story -- it's quite moving.

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Fairfax, Va.: For business I was sent to Seattle last May, and honestly, I did not think much of it. I thought it would be good for earning miles for my vacations, but not much else.

However, once I got there, I quickly realized how much Seattle has to offer. After walking around the city and seeing the famous and not-so-famous sites (such as Pike Place market, the public library, Safeco Field, the many piers), I realized that I was a mere 2.5 miles from Vancouver, BC. That city was also amazing, and a MUST for anyone visiting Seattle. (I recall a few months ago you guys were talking a lot about Granville Island).

After that trip, I cannot tell all of my friends enough about how nice Seattle is. Wether it is watching whales near the San Juan Islands, getting coffee near Pike Place, visiting the amazing scenery near Mt. Rainier, or visiting nearby Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC, the city is probably where I want to retire a long time from now (I'm only in my 20s).

Scott Vogel: Fairfax, you should work for Seattle tourism (hey, there's your retirement gig!) I agree with you, though. It's a quite special place.

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Just a comment...: Hello Crew! I don't have a question, I don't have a response to the question of the week...I just want to say good-bye to John and thank him for all the good work -from everyone for that matter]. I once won a prize from the box'o'junque when John was in the Captain's Chair!

All the best! You'll be missed.

John Deiner: Hey, thanks. That's sweet. I'm gonna miss that box o' junque -- I've done a lot of my Christmas shopping there. And all the best to you as well . . .

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WDC to Baltimore and back again...: I want to go to the Baltimore waterfront, but don't want to drive. Is there a public transportation option from D.C.?

Andrea Sachs: You can take Amtrak from D.C. to Penn Station then catch any number of buses to the waterfront: Nos. 3, 61, 64 or any heading southbound.

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Washington, D.C.: What's a good price for a roundtrip flight to Boston, plus hotel? I'm looking at the prices for July and I'm thinking of postponing until August... not sure if the prices will drop/rise. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: If you want to fly into Logan, you'll probably pay more than if you fly into Manchester or Providence (Southwest destinations). Or look at Airtran from BWI to Logan. And sometimes JetBlue has sale fares from Dulles to Logan. Most of the airlines offer hotel/airfare packages that can save some money. Or you could try a third-party booking site, such as www.expedia.com or www.travelocity.com. I've seen fares as low as $150 round trip, but those sales are few and far between. I'm not sure that prices will be much different in August than July.

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Pittsburgh: Farewell to John, with whom I share a passion for visiting the Azores! I wish you well on your travels through life, and hope you'll get back to these enchanted isles sometime soon.

Re "Have you ever visited a place that you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving?": Yes. It was Pittsburgh, where my spouse had a job interview many years ago, which we both approached with some trepidation as we'd never been here before, so still adhered to the smoky-city stereotype. Of course, by then Pittsburgh was well into its second Renaissance, and had become a lovely place to visit and live. The job interview worked out really well, too.

Christina Talcott: You liked it so much he took the job? That's one serious vote for Pittsburgh. Thanks!

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Oxon Hill, Md.: I understand the hardship the airlines are going through, but at the very least they could not take their frustrations out on their customers. I'm pretty bitter about the bag fees, and believe if they need that extra $15, they can tack it onto the fare and no one will bat and eye.

However, what really ruffles my feathers is that they are cancelling flights without notifying passengers. I have a leisure flight (frequent flier cash-in) to Cabo San Lucas Mexico out of Dulles with a connection in Houston. I recently went onto the website to verify my flight status, and lo and behold my flight to Houston was cancelled. No e-mail, no phone call, no nothing. I wonder how long the airline (Continental) would have gone before letting me know that the flight was cancelled, but as far as I could tell, they expected me to find some other way to get to Houston.

I called Continental, and they could not have been less accomodating, stating that seats and flights are not guaranteed, and that they were making a special exception because of my frequent flier status. I did ask them if they were going to contact me regarding the cancelled flight, and they stated that there are millions of travelers affected by the cancellations, and that the press release two weeks ago should have prompted fliers with reservations in the 4th quarter to check their flight status. Thankfully, I am now booked to Houston through National, but my connection is going to be really tight, especially considering it is an international flight. I wasn't given any other choice short of an overnight stay in Houston or Newark.

I really feel for the airlines, but this is getting ridiculous!

Scott Vogel: More evidence that these are strange times indeed to be a traveler.

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Boston: I'm 24, and was in Victoria, BC for the day with some same-age-group friends last fall. Two words: MINIATURE WORLD. Probably the funniest museum I've ever been to, and we had a great time trying to replicate the pictures. There's also a place on the dock where you can feed wild seals. The science museum seemed very cool, as well. Your kids should be able to keep themselves entertained in Victoria for a day or so.

Scott Vogel: Thanks for the suggestion. I should mention too that Victoria is one of the prettiest cities you'll ever see.

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Rockville, Md.: You probably get this question often, but my husband and I will be going on our first cruise in the next few weeks. Any advice on attire, money (we will be going to Bermuda), or anything else we should know?

Thanks!

John Deiner: Hey, Rock. That's going to be a great trip, I promise. If you haven't gotten it yet, the cruise line will send you a complete guide to the cruise, including what you'll need to wear. Definitely dress comfortably -- shorts and bathing suits and T-shirts are all fine cruisewear during the day. At night you'll need either nice casual or formal (guys don't need tuxes, and women can usually get by with a nice dress). Bring a credit card for Bermuda, and everything on the ship will be charged to your room. It's usually the one thing you don't need to much about, until your bill comes!
As far as Bermuda goes, if you want to get away from the pack of cruisers, jump on one of the nifty little pink buses that ring the island. A lot cheaper than an excursion, and they'll take you anywhere you'll want to go.

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Bowie, Md.: Worst City? Buffalo... until I went to college near there in Niagara Falls, NY in the early 70's. Then, for sanity sake, Buffalo became Eden, compared to "the falls"... seriously, Buffalo's a fun town, great people, down home friendly w/ great 'joints' and a great sports town (and how could you NOT love a place that gave birth to the REAL Buffalo Chicken Wings at the Anchor Inn?).

Ellen McCarthy: Here here! I grew up about 90 miles south of Buffalo and totally agree -- great people. (And I just had my parents pick me up a few bottles of Anchor Bar wing sauce -- you can't beat that stuff!)

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Philadelphia: The taxes and fees portion is irritating, but I assume it's broken out that way either so that the airlines can blame the high costs on the government, or because the government requires it to be broken down so people know what their money is going for (similar to how phone bills are supposed to show all the taxes and fees). In either case, I've bought tickets from U.K. sites while in that country, and taxes and fees are broken out there, too.

Scott Vogel: Interesting. Are the taxes and fees abroad roughly comparable?

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D.C.: I'll have 3 weeks of vacation in fall and I would like to do volunteer work overseas. I have a science degree and some teaching experience. Where I should start looking?

Andrea Sachs: Good for you, D.C. Do-Gooder. I would start with a clearing house for volunteer vacation, to get a sense of what is out there. Try www.transitionsabroad.com, www.volunteerabroad.com/search.cfm, www.idealist.org/volunteer/travel.html and ww.globalcrossroad.com. With these listings, you can match your time, experience and expertise with their offerings, then contact the specific organization for more info and an application. (I personally have always wanted to teach English at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal.)

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Volunteer Vaca, Va.: Hi, TC! I am in search of trusted companies that run volunteer vacations (working in an orphanage, building homes etc.). I believe a few were listed in the big travel guide a few months back, but my searches aren't turning up anything. Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Teens on a Mission (Post Travel Section, April 20)

Christina Talcott: You're right - we listed a bunch of companies that run volunteer vacations with our package about volunteer trips for teens (link below), and we also had a list in our Way to Go Guide under Specialty Travel. Here's the list:
* The nonprofit Action Without Borders (212-843-3973, http://www.idealist.org) is a great place to start. Volunteers can search the database of more than 72,000 member organizations worldwide by location, area of focus and dates. The travel-specific page (http://www.idealist.org/volunteer/travel.html) lists organizations seeking volunteers.
* The American Hiking Society (301-565-6704, http://www.americanhiking.org) offers field trips for rebuilding trails and fences on public land in about 30 states. Trips cost about $275. The AHS is also working with the Patagonian Foundation on volunteer trips to Chilean Patagonia.
* Global Volunteers (800-487-1074, http://www.globalvolunteers.org) is a nonprofit international development organization that places about 150 teams each year in one- to three-week projects. The educational, social or medical projects (chosen by the local community) start at $795 per volunteer. In addition to about 20 overseas programs, there are also sites in three states.
* Habitat for Humanity's Global Village (800-422-4828, http://www.habitat.org/gv) offers seven- to 16-day home-building placements in the States, Canada and overseas; cost runs between $900 and $2,200, plus airfare. Habitat can provide fundraising resources, such as a Web site to accept donations.
* Health Volunteers Overseas (202-296-0928, http://www.hvousa.org) runs more than 70 clinical education programs in 25 developing countries and places medical professionals in one-month teaching and training programs. Volunteers cover their transportation to and from the work site.
* The International Volunteer Programs Association (914-380-8322, http://www.volunteerinternational.org) site lists volunteer organizations and includes fundraising and scholarship information.
* Volunteer Match (415-241-6868, http://www.volunteermatch.org) pairs volunteers with the U.S.-based organizations seeking them. If you know what city you want to travel to, type it and your interests into the advanced search form and see if any opportunities pop up.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the piece about my hometown: Detroit. It made me very homesick. You were fair in describing the strengths and troubles of that region. Frankly, I'm sick of the derogatory comments I hear about Detroit from people in this area. I much prefer those sports-loving and decent folks to the numerous navel-gazers of the DC area.

washingtonpost.com: In Motown, Stop in the Name of Hope (Post Travel Section, June 22)

Ellen McCarthy: That's one of the things I was attracted to about Detroit. It felt very real -- no one was putting on airs. And they all seemed intrinsically connected to the place, despite its problems.

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Columbia, Md. - Baltimore Waterfront: Take the Camden train instead - the MARC train - to Camden Yards. It's a short walk to the waterfront - I'm assuming the poster means the Inner Harbor?? I wouldn't suggest taking the buses if you can avoid them, frankly - it makes the trip excrutiatingly long.

From the Inner Harbor mall-ish area, catch a water taxi to Fells Point, Rusty Scupper, or anywhere you want to go.

Andrea Sachs: Ooh, an even better route. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: I don't need to be considered for the prize but I didn't expect to be very fond of St. Thomas. I'm a culture vulture (popular and traditional). From what I'd heard (combined with the fact that it was still the "United States"), I expected it to be a hyper-commercialized tourist-centric every-island that wasn't much more than a pretty beach pit stop. Sure, the downtown area where the bulk of duty free shops may fit that bill but its a wonderful little island with its own cultural identity and was one of my favorite vacations of all time!

Christina Talcott: Thanks!

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Rockville, Md.: I'm in love with someone in Barcelona. Can't get there until late Autumn/early Winter due to both our travel schedules... when should I start looking for good fares and what is the best way to fly? I can go from BWI or Dulles, but it seems like there aren't too many flights directly to Barcelona. It's via Paris or Madrid. Does it make sense to fly to Madrid and just hop a train? thanks

Carol Sottili: Iberia has a direct flight from Washington Dulles, which means it stops, but you don't have to change planes. You'll find more choices from Dulles than BWI. Also, Spanair flies nonstop from Philadelphia to Barcelona, and Continental and Air Europa fly nonstop from Newark. I think it makes more sense to fly than take train, unless you want to spend some time in Madrid.

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Columbia, Md. to Seattle again: Is it reasonable to go carless in Seattle and Vancouver or will we miss the interesting side trips? We're all pretty frequent walkers, fwiw.

Scott Vogel: It's absolutely reasonable, in my opinion, as long as you pick a good central location for your hotel in both places. It will certainly not be as easy to be car-less in Seattle as it might be in Vancouver, but on the other hand, Seattle has absolutely horrendous traffic. In that situation, a car might be more of a nuisance.

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New York: John, one of the reasons I check in on the chat and the section is to see what you've been up to. Happy trails.

John Deiner: Hey, thanks, NYC. I'll look for ya the next time I'm there, and we can buy a pretzel off the street.

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Rochester, N.Y.: In my senior year, I was flown in to interview at a major company in what I perceived to be the boonies (me having lived in the top 3 cities of America). I was wooed by them and ended up taking the job.

The happy ending is nowadays I spend 1/4 of my time traveling. And when people find out about this history and ask "so do you like it here now?" I no longer have that quarter-life crisis feeling in my gut.

Christina Talcott: That's great! Thanks!

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For Seattle-bound: My parents took the family there when I was a kid, and it stands out as one of the best vacations. We rented a cabin in (or near?) Olympic National Park and hiked around for a couple of days. The trees and terrain was so different from what I was used to, it really made an impression. Also, we took an overnight trip to Port Angeles via ferry. That was pretty cool.

Scott Vogel: Great suggestions, all. And a car would come in handy for these.

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Annandale, Va.: To the person wondering about parking at Union Station. I had lots of luck parking at National Airport and taking Metro to Union Station. If you give yourself enough time, you can park in the "cheap" lot at National and shuttle to the Metro. Sort of round about but it works.

John Deiner: Well, that's one idea. If you hit the shuttle bus, it probably doesn't take too much extra time. Parking at Union Station is like 30 bucks a day, isn't it?

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Detroit: Ellen's article was really well done. I wish she'd asked for my suggestions for breakfast places, though! Corktown has a great Irish bar -- Baleigh Corkeigh (I'm not spelling it right, likely) -- very authentic. The Saganaki line was great. I live in a suburb of Detroit, but go down often, because Detroit has a fab. art musuem, opera house, ball park, etc. If anyone wants a good Labor Day weekend trip, come and stay a couple of days in or near Detroit and check out the major festivals: International Jazz Fest is GREAT (riverfront has been re-done and looks a lot better). Then check out west Michigan (beaches etc. like Saugtuck, which is a 2 1/2 hour drive) or what we call Up North. Michigan is great, really! Michael Moore has a film fest every year in Traverse City. Check it out. The reason Detroit is so bad in general is the poverty, lack of good education in the city proper, the lingering results of the "white flight" that started in the 60's etc. If you see the mayor, please yell at him (he's a terrible crook, but it's kind of part of the ambiance, sadly). But it is not without hope or heart. Please visit!

Ellen McCarthy: Ha ha ha.... fair enough! Thanks for chiming in.

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What to do??: Hi Crew, thinking about a New Zealand-Australia cruise in early November, but the biggest sticking point is the airfare. The cruise line is offering $1200/person, but if we want to stay any extra days they have to be booked through them at an exorbitant cost ($500/night). On Kayak.com I've found $2100/person; how likely is it that a FF ticket would be available? Enough miles banked for one and would have to buy one.

Carol Sottili: Have you tried going directly to the airline Web sites? Sometimes Qantas and Air New Zealand offer Web-only sale fares. As for FF ticket, may be too late. But you can always call the airline and ask.

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Rockville, Md.: 15 days off in October and would love to visit Egypt and Petra with a small tour company. I have a budget of $4000 and that should cover airfare, hotels and single supplement if any... Do you or the chatters have a recommendation on a company? There is so much information on the internet that right now I'm confused!

Andrea Sachs: We do not have personal recommendations for Egypt tour operators. Can anyone help out Rockville?

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Falls Church, Va.: A little twist on your question - one city that I thought I'd like but didn't was (this will probably start a big disagreement in the chat) Rome. It was interesting, but a bit on the gritty side for me and I just wasn't as impressed as I had expected to be. I don't feel any need to go back to that city, except perhaps to spend more time at the Vatican Museums in Vatican City.

Christina Talcott: Hmm, interesting. Yes, maybe we'll have a follow-up some week about where you thought you'd like but didn't. Good question!

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Travel trivia: I don't know the answer (and wouldn't give it away if I did), but I have to say thanks for this week's question simply because it's so much fun to look at a map of Newfoundland. I mean, really, where else can you find places with names like Jerry's Nose, Nameless Cove, Harbour Harbour, or (my favorite) Dildo?

John Deiner: Good question. Where else can you find those places? (Dildo??!) Sort of dig Jerry's Nose as well.

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Tallahassee, Florida: What are the best and most reasonable international cell phone options for keeping in touch with the US and each other while in Paris and England (most of the time) for two weeks? My cell phone service does not support the European standard, so I either need to rent or buy. Here in the US or wait until we get over there? Any suggestions for best providers, web sites for comparison information, or other suggestions?

Carol Sottili: I think it costs more money to rent a phone here. When my daughter went to London, we bought a pay-as-you-go phone at the Carphone Warehouse. They made it easy to compare plans and it was much cheaper. Go to www.carphonewarehouse.com.

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Olney, Md.: Quick Coach Buses (www.quickcoach.com) go from Seattle to Vancouver easily.

From Vancouver to Victoria the Pacific Coach bus company (www.pacificcoach.com) takes you from downtown Vancouver to Victoria via the only way to Victoria, a ferry boat. The advantage of Pacific Coach is that they take you to the ferry south of Vancouver, which is otherwise hard to get to, the bus goes on the ferry with you to the island that Victoria is on, and then they take you from this otherwise inconvenient ferry terminal to Victoria, with a single all-inclusive price.

Finally, there is also a 100-mile boat ride from Victoria to Seattle, and with it you could then travel in a round trip to see all three places.

Scott Vogel: Wow, you guys have a wealth of knowledge on the Pacific Northwest. Thanks!

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Philadelphia: Re the taxes and fees - to be honest, I didn't note them that closely, since I was more concerned with the overall price and figuring out the exchange rate. Also, I only used flights to/from/within the U.K., so can't speak for other countries But I did notice that, especially with the discount airlines, the taxes and fees often ended up being more than the flight itself.

But, some of the flights (including taxes and fees) ended up costing less than the train options for the same trip - that is, I was able to do a round trip to Edinburgh from London for less by airplane than the train cost, although had I been one of the first to make train reservations it would have been much less, since train tickets are priced variably depending on when you buy them. Well, also on classes and such, but the cheapest tickets sell out first.

Scott Vogel: Good stuff to keep in mind when considering flying within Europe. Thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: Rather than a particular place I didn't think I'd enjoy, my "conversion experience" came the first time I went on a cruise. I pictured cruises as being full of old people who would get in the way and hold up the breakfast queue, but in 2005 I went on a cruise from Seward to Vancouver because my girlfriend won two roundtrip tickets on Delta at her office Christmas party and she wanted to use them to go to Alaska. While there were some irritating old people on board, the experience was completely different from what I expected in almost all ways...good service, didn't feel confined on board the ship, and I realized that practically speaking a cruise was the only way to see the Alaska Panhandle easily in a single week without spending several thousand dollars on flights.

We enjoyed it so much that last summer we went on another cruise (on the exact same ship, believe it or not) around the Baltic Sea.

Christina Talcott: You know, I've always felt the same way about cruises, but they're sometimes the cheapest way to see a place. Glad you liked it enough to go on another one!

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Alexandria, Va.: I had a five-hour layover in Heathrow, which I was dreading. Frequent-flier status on British Airways, however, gave me access to an amazing lounge, which included a "shower" that had six or seven water jets, and freshly-cooked penne and Vietnamese-style noodles. I passed on the gratis massage.

So good that I almost wanted to stay longer.

Almost.

Christina Talcott: Holy cow. You PASSED on the free massage??

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soon to be Paris, France: We're leaving this weekend for a week in Paris; it's been nearly 10 years since I was in Europe back in college. Is it still necessary to get some Euros before we leave, or are there plenty of ATMs in the airport to get some cash once we arrive?

Christina Talcott: You won't have any trouble getting Euros at the airport. Bon voyage!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: There is one place that I didn't think I would like at all... Several years ago a friend and I decided to go to Europe. She booked everything. When I found out Belgium and especially Brugges was on the itinerary I was very disappointed. When we got there I have to say it was one of the most beautiful and quaint places I have ever been! It was a great trip.

Christina Talcott: That's great. Thanks!

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D.C.: We are looking forward to an August trip to Europe with two college age kids. How do we manage cash and charges? We have a Capital One credit card. Should we also get Euros in advance (if so, where) or get them there (banks or elsewhere)? Thanks!

Scott Vogel: Actually, since your card is Capital One, you're in good shape, I believe. (Last I heard, they still didn't charge fees on international transactions, a rarity these days.) Given that, I wouldn't bother to purchase euros in advance.

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Bowie: John, you're the life of the party! What are we going to do without you!!!

John Deiner: You're gonna travel and have the times of your lives. If you need to know anything about Vegas, you can email me at deinerj@gmail.com, and I promise I'll answer!

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RE: Continental Cancellation: Aren't they supposed to let passengers know if they cancel flights via e-mail?

Actually, I JUST did a check, and noticed that my flight to Houston was CANCELLED. I don't know when it was cancelled or what to do about it. How can they do this?

Glad I was reading this chat, but now what recourse do I have if there are no flights available to replace the one that I had booked and paid for? PLEASE HELP, my honeymoon depends on it!

Carol Sottili: This is what Continental's contract of carriage (legal rules) say. You can see the full document at www.continental.com (search for contract of carriage):
Change in Schedule - When a Passenger's Ticketed flight is affected because of a Change in Schedule, CO will, at its
election arrange one of the following:
1) Transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or
transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional
cost to the Passenger, provided that a Passenger who paid a Coach fare will only be transported on a flight in First
Class or Business First Class Service subject to seat availability and if such flight will provide an earlier arrival
than CO's next flight on which coach space is available;
2) Reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers when a Change in Schedule results in the cancellation of
all CO service between two cities;
3) Advise the Passenger that the value of his or her Ticket may be applied toward future travel on Continental within
one year from the date of issue without a change or reissue fee; or
4) Provide a refund in accordance with Rule 27 A) if the Passenger is not transported as provided in C) 1) or 2) above
and does not choose to apply the value of his or her Ticket toward future travel as provided in C) 3) above.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Hi,

We're meeting up with family in Chicago to spend time with our little niece and nephew in late July. My spouse and I want to head in a day or two early for some much needed R-and-R. What should we do? I'm thinking pool, good restaurant, etc. We'll be running around to all the museums with the kiddos shortly thereafter so we really just need a good place to lounge around!

Ellen McCarthy: Hey there... You're going to have so much fun. So, my Chicago-native friend Chris suggests the beach on a weekday for great lounging. You should have the place to yourselves. And think about hopping on a sailboat if there's time -- it's a stunning way to see the city's incredible architecture. And just good leisure time. Avec is a fantastic restaurant for small plates, and Blackbird is its upscale brother. Have fun! Come back relaxed.

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Detroit (but now DC): Ellen, You went to Detroit and missed Mexican Town!! Mexican Town in SW Detroit is home to authentic, delicious and cheap food. Xochimilco is a must-eat place for all who visit the D!

Ellen McCarthy: A reason to return! Thanks.

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Passport - Help!: I'm going to the EU (Spain and France) for the last two weeks of July. I just realized that my passport expires in mid-August -- and I have read vague advice that countries "sometimes" require a passport to be valid for 6 months after the trip.

What do you think? Do I have to run out, like, TODAY to the passport office, to order an expedited one? Or is there a place I can get a firm answer on EU passport requirements?

Andrea Sachs: Each country has different requirements. Spain, for instance, says passports should be valid three months after your return. My advise is to get a new passport--better to be safe, then stuck.

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Olney, Md.: For the person from Reston wanting to park at an Amtrak station: I'd park either at New Carrollton where there is reasonable garage parking, or BWI's Amtrak station garage where there is even easier parking at $7.00 per day, and the train is about $10 cheaper from there and the station is really small and easy to negotiate.

Also, I would submit that Metro does not check on more than 24-hour parking over the weekend (Shady Grove always has cars dotted all over the far reaches of the lots on the weekends). The way they check is if you are in the same space two overnights in a row. And they don't care during the days when they are not making money on the parking. But don't quote me on this...

John Deiner: Oh, we're gonna HAVE to quote you on that. Well, we'll throw it out there and see if anyone concurs. And good idea about the Maryland spots, though ya never know how Maryland-challenged (and vice-versa) some folks are.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re your AirTran story in CoGo -- I am not at all surprised. After all, this is an airline that for years would not shell out the money to have flight information show on the monitors at National Airport.

washingtonpost.com: Coming and Going (Post Travel Section, June 22)

John Deiner: Nothing surprises us about any airline any more, Silver.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello - We're heading out to White Post, VA this weekend to stay at L'Auberge Provencal. What else is there to do in that area, or on the way to/from? Articles/suggestions much appreciated! Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Sounds delightful. Weekend's cover story, on road trips with kids, mentioned Mackintosh Fruit Farm in Berryville, just north of White Post, and I like Front Royal's Royal Oak bookshop and the couple of nice cafes they have there. Anyone have more advice for the Auberge-bound?

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Bethesda, Md.: What about revisiting a place you didn't like all the much initially, but enjoying it much more during a second visit. I was studying in Germany when I first visited Amsterdam for several days, and I just didn't quite the attraction. It was okay, but nothing to be blown away by. Fast forward a few years, and my sister is living in a great flat in the center of Amsterdam! I visit, and like the place so much more because she knows the wonderful cheese shop around the corner, the amazing chocolate shop and cafe a few blocks further, her favorite bagel place (bagel w/ chocolate sprinkle, please!), etc. I came away from the trip with a different -and more positive- appreciation of Amsterdam.

Christina Talcott: Going with someone who's familiar with a place sure changes things, doesn't it?

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Place Unexpected: Hi, last year my BF was going to Philadelphia for a business meeting and I reluctantly tagged along. We had so much fun and it was also very romantic. We toured around the city after dark in the street lights, had great food in totally unexpected places (we are foodies), watched a Jefferson impersonator who held a town meeting in the Quaker House... and the best part was the old ship at the harbor called Moshulu, we walked up at the sunset and had margaritas, there was a pretty breeze, and it was one of the best times we had (it was so romantic, I could have thought about it if he'd proposed!). We always refer to it in terms of how much fun we had there.

Christina Talcott: Haha, that's great - hope he knows you might have said yes if he'd asked! And I have to get up there to the margarita boat. Sounds delightful.

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'cause I'm nosy...: Did you ever hear back from the chatter wanting ideas for a day trip or two outside of London? I remember the question prompted lots of good ideas, and am curious to know what suggestion, if any, s/he followed.

Christina Talcott: Nope, but maybe he or she is lurking today. Daytripper, are you there?

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Ditto Pittsburgh: A few years ago I read an article about things to do in Pittsburgh (probably in the Post Travel Section) and dragged the family off there for Thanksgiving weekend. We had a blast and I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. Fast forward a couple of years and my daughter decided to go to college at the University of Pittsburgh and now I get to visit the city several times a year. (Unfortunately, she'll be doing study abroad next year, so I won't get my regular Pittsburgh "fix.")

Ellen McCarthy: I'm just back from Pittsburgh and totally agree. Great town with lots of character. I'm sure they'd love to have you back, even without your daughter to visit.

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Oxford, Md.: We will be having short stays in Brussels and in Bruges mid-August. Any tips on accommodations which are well-located for walking, but which won't break the bank?

Christina Talcott: We just had a chatter write in about visiting Belgium. Any advice for Oxford?

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Washington, D.C.: Last week when I was returning to DCA from a vacation in Austin, I ended up being rebooked on an American flight instead of the Northwest flight I had originally purchased due to delays that would prevent me from making my connection (it was a surprisingly painless process, but that's another story - I chalk it up to Texas friendliness). When I got my new boarding pass from the American ticket agent I saw the SSSSS that meant I would have to endure the extra security screening, including being stuck in the Plexiglass corral until a female agent could be called to do my pat down(could TSA have come up with anything more humiliating?) I knew immediately that it was because the computer thought I had purchased my ticket less than 24 hours before the flight (can you tell this has happened to me before?) When I handed my ticket to the first TSA officer she said "uh-oh, you've been picked for extra screening." I explained that I knew that and even knew why. She told me that the airlines can override that when they issue the boarding pass. On this particular day it was no big deal because the airport was almost empty, I was returning from a lovely vacation with the folks, and everyone was in good spirits. But I wonder, for future, is this true? And how do you ask a ticket agent to do so without raising suspicions?

Scott Vogel: That's interesting, and worth attempting. I recently had the same experience while traveling with my 7-year-old (we also had purchased our tickets less than 24 hours in advance). It's one thing to have to submit to that sort of scrutiny yourself, but to watch the TSA work him over too, dumping out all his crayons, etc....
On the plus side, my kid was terribly impressed by all the high-tech gadgetry used to inspect his stuffed animals. It's quite something. Not something I'd recommend, but still...

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Cambodia or Vietnam: Hello. I have to speak at a conference at the end of October in Beijing and thought I would travel for 2.5 weeks prior. I am considering Cambodia and/or Vietnam. I like to get away from the crowds and food and friendliness matter. Any preferences out there?

Christina Talcott: Let's let the chatters weigh in. Cambodia or Vietnam?

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San Diego, Calif.: Have you or the chatters rented timeshares through redweek.com, timesharesonly or any other sites? Any recommendations or pitfalls?

Carol Sottili: I wrote a few stories about timeshares, which I'm going to hunt up for you. Meanwhile, check the sites with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) and check the timeshare destinations on review sites, such as www.tripadvisor.com. Sometimes you can rent a timeshare directly from the destination rather than through a third-party booking site. I know that's true of Hilton, Marriott, and other big hotel chains that are now also doing timeshares.

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cell phone in Europe: A couple of years ago I purchased a phone from mobal.com. It cost $45 and you get a phone number that is yours for life. You only pay for the time you use... the drawback is that it is a number in the U.K., but I found that the ones I rented here also were U.K. numbers. The phone comes with adapters for any electrical outlets around the world and works in about 100 countries. No need to buy a SIM card in every country you visit. I used it in France, Italy and the Republic of Georgia and had excellent service.

Carol Sottili: That's the company we also used. But there are are other choices. That's why I liked the Carphone Warehouse because you could easily compare the different companies and offers.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi. Thanks for the article on Detroit. As a Detroit native, I'm glad someone is promoting the positive side of the city. My question has to deal with travel to Naples, Italy. My partner and I are looking to travel there sometime between Sept and Dec of this year. In your opinion, when is the best time to go and how does one find decent airfare?

Ellen McCarthy: Thanks so much. Do we have any Naples experts out there with advice?

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Washington, D.C.: We're going to Vancouver and Vancouver Island in August with young children -- can you recommend hotels?

Preferably with a pool for the kids and a suite for our sanity.

Christina Talcott: Anyone out there with advice on Vancouver with kids? I can't find anything in our archives.

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Columbia, Maryland: We will be hiking in England for 10 days in July and want to have access to a cell phone. We currently have ATT Wireless with no international plan. What is the best way (cost wise) to have service? I understand we could get a pay-as-you-go phone in England. What do you know about this?

Carol Sottili: You may be able to get your phone unlocked - ATT phones use the same technology as those in Europe, I believe. Then you could buy a SIM card in England. That may be cheaper way to go for you. Check with ATT Wireless.

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Native New Jerseyan: The place I hadn't had any expectations of (and grew to love) was Charleston, S.C. Went camping on Hunting Island with a roommate back in the early 80's, and the black flies were as big as your thumb, so we escaped to Charleston and the Francis Marion Motel -- about $30 a night back then, and complete with a b& w tv with a wire coat hanger as an antenna! Fell in love with the city, the beaches, the barbecue and Spoleto.

The other place I had no expectations of, and to this day, I loathe, is Las Vegas -- sleaze and obnoxious, foulmouthed drunks everywhere. Reston must have some kind of special gene to like it that much -- they must have great relatives. I had to go to a wedding there last year, and except for the actual wedding -- in a real church -- I remain unchanged in my original opinion.

Christina Talcott: I think some people are genetically disinclined toward Las Vegas. Glad you liked Charleston, though!

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Washington, D.C.: Are there any buses like Megabus, DC2NY, or Boltbus (that is, non-Chinatown type buses) that provide service between Philly and DC? Haven't been able to find any ...

Andrea Sachs: To my knowledge, nope. Chinatown, yes. NY-Philly, yes again. But D.C. to Philly, no. (Unless you want a Chinatown bus.)

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Philly Girl: I have to say, when I moved to Philly over 10 years ago I didn't know much about it. I moved here for work - all alone, not knowing anyone. I have to say, I can't see myself living anywhere else. If you stay in Center City it is beautiful! Boat House Row and Fairmont Park... The museums, the restaurants. It's truly a remarkable place. My friends told me I'd be moving home in 6 months - I guess I proved everyone wrong (including myself, I thought they would be right and win the bet!)

Christina Talcott: Another vote for Philly.

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Baltimore, Md.: Boo hoo... I'm not crying just for John, although I am sad he's leaving. You already answered an Ireland question very similar to mine. Except: what if you already have tix to fly into and OUT of Dublin? What's the best itinerary by car for six days in that event? We have three days in Dublin and six more to see the countryside. First timers all. Where to?

Ellen McCarthy: I actually think you'll still be okay. Part of the experience is just seeing the countryside pass by as you drive. So, if you head south to Waterford/Wexford, then over to Tralee (stopping to kiss the Blarney stone if you need a little jolt of eloquence) then do either the Ring of Kerry or Dingle, up through the Burren to the Cliffs of Moore -- stay over night in Ennis, shoot up to Connemara (at least for the day) and have a night of fun in Galway. It won't be too, too much driving each day and you'll have lots of fun stops. From there you can drive directly across the country (about 3 hours) back to Dublin.

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Germantown, Md.: I heard that before visiting a third world country, you should take daily doses of pepto bismol before, during and after your stay. Have you heard of this?

Christina Talcott: I've never heard that, and it sounds pretty sketchy. I'd talk to your doctor before going anywhere that makes you want to pack your Pepto.

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Fairfax, Va: Surprised to like: South Korea. When my husband invited me to join him on a short business trip to Seoul, some thought it was a terrible idea - a cold, dreary place, they thought. They must have been thinking of NORTH Korea! I had a wonderful time, eating interesting food, shopping in charming shops in Itaewon and Insadong, having Korean people offer assistance everywhere I went, chuckling at Korean humor (such as Chinese restaurant "Ho Lee Chow"). At one of the palaces I visited, I emerged from the subway station to marvel at the view and how much I would have missed had I not gone.

I also have a question. We're currently double-booked for our third night in Washington state - in Seattle and in Port Angeles (where we currently have 5 nights). We're thinking of dropping the extra night in Seattle for more time on the north side of Olympic National Park. Is that a mistake? We plan to see Museum of Flight on our arrival day, Savor Seattle Food Tour and Experience Music/Sci Fi Museums on the next day, and to exit Seattle via one of the longer ferries.

Our thinking was that the natural areas were a bigger draw, but we could be swayed. Thanks!

Scott Vogel: This one really goes to the heart of the Pacific Northwest dilemma. A few years back, I would have definitely privileged natural over man-made, but the man-made is really on quite a roll. Bottom line: Don't change your trip if you're at all intrigued about the spectacular Olympic mountains. They're unmissable.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I posted earlier about Brugges, Belgium. While I loved it there, I have to tell you, I was not a fan of Brussels. They are like night and day towns. If I recall, it was very expensive too but the beer was good! Also the French Fries.

Christina Talcott: Mm, fries and beer. Sounds all right to me!

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Victoria bound: Can we unleash some of that NW knowledge that is out there today to tell us which hotel to stay at (with small kids) in Victoria? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Unleash it, guys! Thanks!

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re Brussels: I used to live in Brussels. There's an Ibis hotel right near the Grand Place, which should be really affordable. (Ibis Hotels are like Holiday Inns - nothing fancy, but totally fine.)

A bit further away from the center, but on Ave Louise and right on the tram line, try the Bristol Stephanie. It's a bit more expensive than the Ibis, but should still be affordable and it's got large rooms, a rarity for European hotels.

Christina Talcott: Great advice, thanks!

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More Continental: Their Contract of Carriage does not say anything about notfying passengers of changes in schedule. If that is the case, perhaps the word needs to be spread for people to check their flight status on the airline. I feel terrible for the two people posting above, and hope that everyone who has booked a flight on Continental after September (the annonced time when flight schedules will change) has verified their status. Perhaps a full story could let less informed people know about this before they show up to the airport for a flight that no longer exists.

Carol Sottili: And Continental is not the only airline that has announced it will change schedules and cancel flights. It's a good idea to check, no matter what airline you're flying.

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Falls Church, Va.: My whole family is from Detroit, but most live north of the city in the suburbs now. As such, we all go back yearly, if not more frequently.

My cousin, who lives here in Northern Virginia, found this great t-shirt last summer: it says, "I'm so tough I vacation in Detroit."

We all loved it.

Anyhow, be sure to check out Western Michigan. The Lake Michigan beaches are amazing. Turquoise water, white sands, and empty. We're going back for our anniversary this year.

Ellen McCarthy: Ha! Love that shirt. Thanks for the Western Michigan tip.

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Cell phone in Europe: I just got a new phone on Verizon that works on the CDMA network here but that will accept a SIM card for use in Europe. Probably not as cheap as some other alternatives since I'd pay the international roaming rate ($4.99 a minute in Russia! Ouch!), but on the other hand being able to use my same phone number is awfully convenient. Best of all, the phone has NO CAMERA (you can't take a camera phone into a courthouse).

Just thought it might be worth mentioning this alternative. It's easier than maintaining a separate phone.

Carol Sottili: Easier, but more expensive. Take your pick.

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Washington, D.C.: any idea when Egypt Air is joining the Star Alliance? I'm hoping to use my UAL miles for trips on Egypt Air!

Scott Vogel: That is scheduled to happen on July 11, according to various Web sources.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: I'm going to Japan in November, for the first time (aside from a stopover at Narita, which doesn't count!). I will have about 8 days - I know I want to visit Tokyo and Kyoto. Realistically, is there time to add anything else to the schedule, and if so, what would you recommend? I prefer city touring, but my travel companion prefers the country, so either is really fine. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Four days in each city sounds just right to me, but you might want to consider a night somewhere at an onsen outside town, the one thing I wish I'd done when I went to Japan a few years back. Otherwise, you'll have PLENTY to do in 8 days in Kyoto and Tokyo!

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washingtonpost.com: Sign Here (Post Travel Section, Dec. 17, 2006)

Carol Sottili: Here's the timeshare article.

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Re: Moshulu in Philly: Just had brunch there yesterday. 35 bucks for 3 courses, unlimited champagne/mimosas/bellinis/kir royales and both white and milk chocolate fountains. Also attended a wedding rehearsal dinner there. Really amazing ship and good food and drinks!

Christina Talcott: Wow, I have to check this place out!

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New York Hotel: there is a La Quinta on W. 34th that is an old hotel remodeled, very nice for the money, breakfast stuff, around $150 per night. Its nicer than you would think it would be (in a good way). Check the La Quinta web site.

Christina Talcott: Great, thanks!

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Olney, Md.: There is a new high speed train (AVE) from Madrid to Barcelona. If it is much cheaper or easier to fly to Madrid, and it may or may not not be, you can go on this train for 125 euros in 3 hours from one city to the other. If you change planes in Paris, try give yourself at least 1.5 hours to change planes, because passport control is sometimes a real pain, especially (incredibly) with Air France which uses gigantic Terminal 2. With other airlines, the plane change is less painful because the terminals are smaller and emptier.

Carol Sottili: But how far is the train from the airport, and is it easy to get between the two places?

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Deep Valley, USA: My big surprise was Cincinnati, where I had an extra day to spend on a work trip. I was staying downtown, the weather was gorgeous, and there were several very cool outdoor events going on.

Plus good used bookstores and a place near P and G headquarters where you could buy odd off-brand consumer products. They have to keep certain trademarks alive, so they produce a few a year and sell them in that special store.

Ellen McCarthy: Ooooh, interesting. Thanks!

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Bethesda, Md.: Any deals on cruises in Europe this summer? I know it's last minute but the prices (when you include airfare) are just so ridiculous right now for my poor American wallet.

Also, just back from a trip to Central America (Guatemala and Mexico) and thanks for the advice a couple months ago. I loved Tikal and felt very safe traveling around the entire region.

Scott Vogel: Check into the European cruises offered by NCL, Royal Caribbean and Costa. The cruises themselves, particularly in August, are good values. But then you gotta think about getting to Europe....

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Anonymous: Iowa City, IA: I didn't expect to like Vicksburg Mississippi; first visited about 15 years ago just because the Delta Queen stopped there. Loved it, have been back whenever the opportunity came my way. I enjoyed the food, history, homes with stories to them, and the people.

About 3 years ago I was in Vicksburg and my traveling companion was abruptly hospitalized...everyone from hospital staff to hotel clerks to a local bank that cashed in my travelers' checks was friendly and supportive to a Yankee, mid-60s, female stranger. I've been back twice since and always feel welcomed.

Christina Talcott: Wow, who knew? Thanks!

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Victoria hotel: The Fairmont Empress easily wins if one's budget allows, simply due to the location right on the harbour.

Scott Vogel: Absolutely agree. They're great with kids and the hotel itself is stunningly beautiful.

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"I'd talk to your doctor before going anywhere that makes you want to pack your Pepto.": I don't know, I usually bring some Pepto tablets wherever I go, even in the USA. Suppose you get a stomachache halfway between Newark and Honolulu....do you really want to spend the next five hours going back and forth to an airplane toilet?

Christina Talcott: Hmm, I suppose going anywhere can make you want to pack your Pepto. Better safe than sorry, huh?

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Vienna, Va.: I just want the taxes and fees I'm quoted to be accurate.

I rented a car from Budget in Denver this weekend and was charged approximately 15 bucks more in fees than the on-line reservation system had indicated. It was a negative experience in numerous other ways (the line at the counter to pick up cars was over an hour and I was saddled with a far bigger car than I wanted since the clerk insisted I'd have to wait another half hour to talk to a manager if I didn't take it) but the fee discrepancy just adds insult to injury.

I haven't seen this sort of dishonesty from the airlines and hotels. Yet.

Scott Vogel: I'm starting to hear about this sort of thing more and more, and yes, it's distressing.

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Christina Talcott: Well, that's it for this week's chat. Thanks for joining us, everyone, and for all your stories, tips and questions. Would the lady who dragged her family to Pittsburgh after reading about it (maybe in The Post!) and whose daughter wound up going to college there, please send me your address? My e-mail's talcottc@washpost.com. See you all next week!

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