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The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 23, 2009; 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: exploring India on safari and in Kerala state, and checking out New York City restaurants.

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: Hi, everyone, and welcome to another Monday Travel chat! I'm here with Scott Vogel, Carol Sottili, Nancy McKeon, and our invaluable producer, Elizabeth, to take your questions and post your suggestions for all things travel-related.

Did you read the item in this week's CoGo about air travelers' most common in-flight complaints? Well, we're conducting a survey of our own: Bring us your strangest fellow-passenger-related story, and we'll reward the funniest/wackiest/most outrageous one with a classy Travel tote bag.

Ok, let's go!

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Washington, D.C.: A unexpected display of basketball skill by my husband's alma mater has resulted in a spontaneous trip to Indianapolis this weekend. Do you or the chatters have any suggestions for activities to keep us occupied during the day on Friday, since the game isn't until 7? It looks like the weather is going to push us toward indoor activities.

Christina Talcott: Andrea wrote a story last year about off-beat Indianapolis; we'll post it in a sec.

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Falls Church, Va.: My husband and 12 year old twins would like to go away for a long weekend and the only dates we can go are Sunday April 5 to Tuesday April 7. We're looking for something fun and affordable for us and them. We've already been to Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, and Charlottesville. Any suggestions?

Christina Talcott: It may be close to DC (less than an hour away), but Annapolis truly feels far away. You can take a boat ride around the harbor, visit the Naval Academy, go on a ghost tour at night, say the Pledge of Allegiance at Chick & Ruth's deli in the morning, try the buffet at Buddy's Seafood. Another close-but-far idea is Baltimore, whose Inner Harbor's full of top-notch attractions like the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center. A third option is Shenandoah National Park, which opens for the season on April 4, when it starts it program of ranger-led hikes and talks; Skyland Resort and the Big Meadows Campground are open (but not Big Meadows lodge), and Byrd Visitors Center and the Wayside shop and restaurant will be open, too. What about visiting with the wolves like this week's Long Weekend author did in Lititz, Pa.? For more ideas, take a look at some of our Mid-Atlantic stories online.

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Germantown, Md.: Hope you guys can help. I'm joining a group leaving from Miami Airport heading to South America, thus I need to get myself to Miami. I see fantastic fares on Southwest, but to Ft. Lauderdale. How reasonable is it to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and then make my way to MIA? Are there shuttles? How much time should I allow? Is the hassle worth the savings in ticket prices? Would love your input.

Carol Sottili: There are shuttle services between the two airports, but they're not cheap - at least $30 per person each way. You'd have to figure out whether that'll be worth it.

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NY: Hey Crew,

Been to San Francisco millions of times. Will stop at the end of a 'global' business trip and have a free Sunday. What's 'cool' and worthwhile for a continent-hopper, activity-wise?

Christina Talcott: Have you been to the California Academy of Sciences yet? From all accounts (I'm going soon myself) it's a phenomenal building, with South African penguins among its 40,000 animals. And its green roof is a stunning addition to Golden Gate Park, too.

But I'm not sure that counts as "cool" in your book. Anyone have suggestions?

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washingtonpost.com: Artists of All Stripes Put The Indie in Indianapolis (Post Travel Section, May 25, 2008)

Christina Talcott: Here's that story on Indianapolis.

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Ellicott City, Md.: I just want to mention that I traveled to Brooklyn last weekend for dinner and a show with a group of 15 women. We had dinner at Primo Atto, on 5th Ave. at 4th St., in the Park Slope area. The food was delicious, the price was fair, and the service was helpful and flexible, satisfying our every need. Everyone was happy with the restaurant, which is really saying something!

So, if you're ever in Brooklyn...

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the tip! Putting that in my mental Rolodex...

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Pittsburgh: I'm planning a trip to California later this spring. I want to fly to SF, take surface transportation to Southern California, then fly home from LA. But I'm worried that if I can't book this as a round trip, I'll get the 3rd-degree from TSA for having one-way flights. Any advice to help spare me airport hassles and delays?

Christina Talcott: You should be fine. I've never gotten hassled over one-way flights, even when I didn't have a return ticket in my itinerary. That said, check in online and print your boarding passes if possible, follow the 3-1-1 and other TSA protocols and get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: One of the more interesting passengers I sat next to on an Amtrak train was a man claiming to be Brigitte Bardot's husband. He had just come from the State Library researching his "wife" and proceeded to show me photographs of her, which all clearly had just been made from a photocopying machine from biographies of her at the State Library. Forgive me for being skeptical, but I suspect he might not really have been her husband.

Christina Talcott: Wow, what a fantastic lie! Unless, of course, he really was BB's hubby. Did you Google him/her when you got home?

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Indianapolis: We were just there for a wedding in January. I hope you'll have better weather! One thing we enjoyed was the Eiteljorg Museum, which is dedicated to western art. It's a beautiful space and the art is fun to look at, even if it's not all da Vincis. Cafe Patachou has great coffee and good breakfast and lunch. We stayed at the Conrad Indianapolis, and really liked the hotel -- it also has a lovely indoor pool.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the tips!

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washingtonpost.com: Science Museum Goes Back to Nature (Post Travel Section, Dec. 21, 2008)

Christina Talcott: Here's the California Academy of Sciences story we ran in December.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi. Every year a few friends and I try to take a few trips for our various birthdays. We're all straight single guys in our late 20s. This time the destination will be Montreal over Memorial Day weekend. This wasn't my choice, but since it's not my birthday I have to deal with it. The last time I was in Montreal I was 10. I have two questions. One, I'll be blunt, is that I don't have a clue what there is to do there aside from walking around and drinking Canadian beer. I don't really have an affinity for anything French, so to be honest I don't see what the draw of the city is. What is there to do there? Secondly, none of us know any French whatsoever - how much of an impediment to our happiness will this be? I know it's a mixed anglophone and francophone city, but will not knowing French prevent us from accessing any of the major attractions or anything? We'll be there for four nights. Anything to definitely not miss?

Thanks a bunch!!!

Nancy McKeon: Well, I guess it does help to have some affinity for Frenchness to appreciate Montreal, but it's not a requirement. Do you eat? The food can be fabulous. And not just French food; there's a lively tradition of Jewish bakers in the city, so you can get great European baked goods. And Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, so you might book tickets to that instead of waiting for a troupe to hit Baltimore (if you haven't ever seen a Cirque show, you really should). Maybe a bunch of single guys won't care, but the shopping is great cuz the stuff has a French accent and is totally different from what we see in the States. Good art galleries too. Unfortunately, the Montreal Canadiens' season will be over by the time you get there.

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Midwest: I am heading to San Diego for a long weekend in mid-April. Any suggestions for a moderately priced hotel on the beach? Thanks.

Carol Sottili: I'm afraid it's expensive to stay on the beach. Decent place is going to cost upwards of $200 a night. Cheapest close to beach is probably Pacific Shores Inn - http://pacific-shores-inn.pacificahost.com.

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Galapagos Weather: I'm heading to Ecuador & Peru in about 2.5 weeks and am curious about the weather, especially in the Galapagos. I know that they're right on the equator, so does this mean that regardless of the time of year (since it's fall there) it will be nice enough to snorkel?

Nancy McKeon: My Galapagos trip was in February/March a couple of years ago and I was worried, bought a wetsuit, etc. Whatta waste of money! The water was just fine! (And if you're in the water with a dolphin or one of those little penguins, you won't notice anyway!)

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Gaithersburg, Md: Hi! We needed to cancel a flight. USAir issued two "E-TUV" vouchers. Both of the vouchers are in one name. One rep, via email, told us that the vouchers were transferrable. Another rep, on the phone, said they were not. Any suggestions for next steps?

Carol Sottili: Contact US Airways customer relations:

US Airways

Attention: Customer Relations

4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

Fax: 480-693-2300

Or go to an airport ticket counter and ask - you could combine trip with dinner/shopping at Reagan National.

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Washington D.C.: This is not a very exotic travel question, but it's a dire one. I'm having my first kid in about 8 weeks and I've got cabin fever like crazy. My husband and I would love to get away for a weekend night or two, someplace within a couple hours drive. No real activities are required; I would be happy in a comfy room with a DVD player and a good meal nearby. Cost isn't much of a restriction. However, we will have a dog in tow. I can't seem to be able to find a combination of real comfort (i.e. not a bare bones cabin or motel) with pet-friendly. Any thoughts? Thank you!

Christina Talcott: The first place that comes to mind is the State House Inn in Annapolis because it's cozy and inexpensive, near lots of great restaurants, is dog-friendly and is under an hour's drive from DC. In St. Michaels, Five Gables Inn and Spa takes dogs up to 75 pounds for a small fee. Many national chains also allow dogs. You might want to consider Charlottesville, which has lots of good restaurants; Easton, Md., which also has a high concentration of good eats; or even Rehoboth Beach or Ocean City, where the off-season is as lazy as you want it to be. Other suggestions?

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New York, N.Y.: Flying back from Boston on Valujet or whatever it was called. Basically, you were risking your life every time you hopped on board. I get the last seat in the back with no window right next to the engine. I think, 'Well, at least I have these two seats to myself.' Right before they close the doors a incredibly large/fat man boards the plane. I knew he was coming straight for me. In his hands, he has a box with live lobsters which he places under the seat. As we are coming in to land in DC, the plane is, very evidently, swaying from side to side. I can see out the window (one row in front of me) that our wing is almost touching the ground. Only the left wheel hits the runway. Me and The Fat Man grab each other in fear. The other wheel, after what seems like forever, comes down. We pretend like nothing happened.

Christina Talcott: You had me at "lobsters."

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FLL to MIA: There is a train that runs between the airports. $3/pp. I believe it takes 45 minutes between airports, probably faster than traveling on surface roads.

Carol Sottili: Thanks. Forgot there is now something called Tri-Rail service - http://www.tri-rail.com/. Make sure you check the schedules.

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Reston, Va.: Last year, I took Amtrak home from a conference and planned to spend the ride writing a paper for a copyright law class (but I'm not a law student). I ended up sitting across the table from an elderly couple from NYC. The woman spent the whole ride asking me questions ("What are you doing? What's your paper about? Copyright law? Where do you go to law school? You're not a law student? Why are you writing about copyright law if you're not a law student?") and trying to set me up with her grandson, despite my quite-visible wedding and engagement rings.

Her husband spent the ride alternating between LOUDLY scolding his wife for bothering me, apologizing to me for her constant questions, and kicking me under the table (accidentally, I'm sure, but still).

Christina Talcott: Oh boy, that's a doozy.

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RE: San Diego: For the person who asked about places to stay while in San Diego near the beach ... The Dana Inn on Mission Bay is a lovely facility and the room prices are reasonable. We have stayed there and love it. Can't wait to go back.

Carol Sottili: Within walking distance of Mission Beach, but not on the beach.

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To Falls Church looking for weekend place to go: A couple of other ideas, Virginia Beach might be good, there's the beach to run around on, aquarium and plenty of shopping and restaurants; Richmond, there are a couple of museums; Massanuten, indoor water park and other activities, plus nearby Luray Caverns; NY, NY.

Christina Talcott: Ah yes, indoor water parks! Great suggestions.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi everyone! I'm going to Italy this July for my honeymoon. As part of the trip we're spending three days in Rome, and my parents surpised us by booking (and paying) for our hotel while we are there. It is (I think) right near the Spanish Steps, called the Dei Borgognoni Hotel on VIA DEL BUFALO 126. Is this a good area to stay in Rome? Can you suggest any restaurants near there (preferably within walking distance, we don't mind walking) or any specific tours we can't miss? We are definitely doing the Vatican, but I'm thinking more of suggestions for private tour company of the city,especially the "old Rome" area. Thanks so much for your advice, you guys are great.

Nancy McKeon: What a lovely gift from your parents! They've plunked you down in one of the best parts of Rome. The small streets off the Piazza di Spagna (where the Steps are) contain all sorts of fancy shops, antiques and designer. Then, in the other direction, is the Trevi Fountain, where you'll have to fight off the crowds to toss your coins in. There are tons of local tour operators (you'll no doubt find their brochures at the hotel) that can set you up with a half-day or full-day bus tour of the city, just so you can get your bearings. Consider also touring the Catacombs (they can probably arrange that as well). I'll warn you that the nice restaurants near your hotel are on the expensive side, but it seems that every small side street has a trattoria, which offers a limited menu of fine fresh food for less money.

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Washington, DC 20009: Hi - In case someone is looking for somewhere affordable to go this Spring, I just booked 4 nights at a Kimpton in San Francisco - Union Square for $90/night. Insane!

Christina Talcott: Woah - that's a ridiculous price. Have fun!

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Falls Church: With the flagging economy, I thought I could get a decent price on a Spa weekend over Easter. But, it seems most are still super pricey. Does anyone know of a decent spa/resort that isn't ridiculously priced, within 3 hours of DC?

washingtonpost.com: Sisterly Bonding on a Budget (Post Travel Section, Jan. 4)

Christina Talcott: There you go. Berkeley Springs is a fun, very low-key and affordable place.

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Arlington: My mileage is with United, and my friend is with US Air. Can we travel together by using our individual mileage, or is it possible to combine the miles for two tickets on the same airline? If it can be done by talking to airline staff, I don't mind the payment. Thanks for your time.

Carol Sottili: No combining is allowed.

I know you can fly US Airways and accumulate points on your United account, but not sure whether you can use points this way (I'm not an expert on loyalty programs). Anyone out there know the answer?

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Florida Bound : My friend and I (2 mid-20s females) are headed to the Florida Keys this Friday evening for 5 days. Other than our plane tickets and plans to stay with a friend in Key Largo Friday night we've done absolutely no planning so far. (I know, not good. You can yell at me for it.) Any suggestions on what we should do, where we should stay, eat, etc? Not too concerned about price, but would like to stay on the cheaper side. Thanks!

Christina Talcott: I'm a fan of Key West, and I bet you can still find a place to stay there. Start by scanning our Florida stories for Keys ideas, and you can go to www.fla-keys.com for lodging ideas.

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Reston, Va.: For Falls Church--how about Richmond?

For anyone heading to Charlottesville, I strongly recommend eating at Zocalo in the "downtown mall" area. Doesn't look like much from the outside and the decor is a bit industrial, but the food is absolutely to die for.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the recs!

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Thailand: I will have a couple of free days in Bangkok next month. What would make your (and the chatters) "top 5" things to do/see/eat in that time? I do not want to try to do everything there is to do in Bangkok, but hope to hit the highlights.

Nancy McKeon: This is real top-of-the-head, so I want to invite chatters to chime in with more commonsensical ideas. That aside, be sure to visit both the Jim Thompson house AND the big Jim Thompson shop selling all those wonderful things (ties, cosmetic bags, scarves) made with Jim Thompson silk. The elevated train has made moving around the city possible (streets are still gridlocked most of the day and night), so try to use it. Here's another idea to consider: Bangkok, starting with the Mandarin Oriental hotel, has fabulous cooking schools that are geared to one-day classes. (The Mandarin's Oriental Thai Cooking School even posts its upcoming lessons on the hotel's site.) A boat tour along the canals gives a special view of the city. Other ideas?

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most outrageous flight incident: There was the time that I and my two teenage children were flying from Dulles to Frankfort, Germany. Part way across the Atlantic, the woman in front of me started screaming, and I do mean screaming! We were experiencing a little but of turbulence and she was convinced that the plane was going to fall out of the sky. Nothing her husband, or a flight attendant or I could do or say could convince that woman otherwise. We were in a 747, the safest plane in the air, but it didn't matter to her. Finally, the turbulence stopped for long enough for that woman to realize it while catching her breath and she stopped. My children, tho' this was their first time in a large, commercial plane, knew that I had grown up flying in the little private planes and knew if I said so, it was all right.

Christina Talcott: Oh boy, I could see that being a scarring experience for anyone. Good thing your kids knew they weren't in danger!

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Honeymooners in Rome: Also, watch out for pickpockets, especially in the are around the Spanish Steps.

Have gelato!

Nancy McKeon: Yes, gelato. My fave is Giolitti, but there are tons of places. Thanks!

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interesting passenger: I once was sitting in the window seat of a jam packed full late evening flight to Florida. I REALLY had to use the rest room and we were still a good hour or so from landing. Unfortunately the guy next to me was sound asleep (snoring, drooling, etc.). So the passenger in the aisle seat helped me stand up, step over the sleeping man onto her seat and out to the aisle (thank goodness I'm petite!). No sooner do I make me great escape to realize that the aisle seater was someone I went to high school with, over ten years ago! We ended up exchanging contact information and now reguarly keep in touch.

Christina Talcott: Wow, what a small world!

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DCA to Key West: Any tips on trying to change a flight and avoiding fees? I have been nice, but I am wondering if that is all that is needed these days? I have been told to keep calling until I find someone willing to assist me, which I am doing. The answers have been getting better, but it is still not free yet.....

Carol Sottili: The only time I've ever been successful in getting an airline to waive fees was when I cancelled my then 16-year-old son's trip to Denver to ski when he didn't get the grades we'd agreed on. I went in to the ticket office (that was a few years ago, when airlines had ticket offices), and chatted with the woman about why I was cancelling the trip. She applauded my parenting and waived the fees. Other than that, I've batted zero.

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Bethesda: I was on a flight a few years ago -- I don't remember where to or from, but I remember it was at night because the lights were mostly off. Suddenly there was a strong chemical smell. It only took a few seconds to figure out that the woman sitting behind me had decided this would be a good time to paint her nails, using an especially cheap and smelly brand of polish. Fortunately, while those of us around her were still processing this information and figuring out exactly what to say to her (not to mention how to continue breathing), a flight attendant swooped in and told her to stop. She did, but she seemed honestly surprised and confused as to why.

Christina Talcott: OMG that's insane! I'm so glad the flight attendant stepped in. Sometimes people do the strangest things.

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Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to share a hint -- when you rent a car, always make sure to check the glove compartment and side compartments for personal items when returning the car. Last week, I rented a car and found two (!) rental agreements in the glove compartment, both from the previous month.

Although these did not give the credit card info, they did give, for both renters, (1) the person's full name; (2) home address; (3) home and work telephone numbers; (4) name of employer; (5) driver's license state and license number; and (6) date of birth.

Imagine what would have happened if these rental agreements had fallen into the hands of an identity thief.

Needless to say, when I returned home, I ran these through my shredder.

So, please check the rental car when returning it, and do not leave invoices and other personal documents in the car. Do not count on the car rental company to do this.

Carol Sottili: Good idea.

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Europe cruises in the fall: A few weeks ago, someone asked about cruising in Western Europe in the fall and wondered about the weather (sorry for the delay in answering - I keep missing your chats!). I say GO! My husband and I went on RCL's 7-day Western Med cruise that leaves from Barcelona, goes to Nice (France), Pisa/Florence, Rome, Naples and Sicily from late October through the beginning of November. The weather was cool (we wore pants and light weight long sleeves), but perfect for touring. We were also lucky with mostly sunny days, it just rained a little bit the day we were in Rome.

I will warn them though, that the Mediterranian is very choppy during that time of year because of the changing water temperatures. We didn't notice it for the bulk of the cruise, until our day at sea sailing from Sicily back to Barcelona. It was VERY choppy (they had to drain the pools b/c it was sloshing up on deck). But it was still a great, great time. It's a very budget-friendly way to see Europe.

Carol Sottili: Always good to hear from someone who has been there.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

We've planned a trip to Charlottesville this weekend and see now that it's supposed to rain the whole time! We were planning on doing a winery on Saturday and Monticello on Sunday; will the rain ruin our plans? Any suggestions for more indoor activities?

Thanks!

Christina Talcott: I think you'll be fine in the rain with your itinerary; you won't be able to explore the Monticello gardens that much if it's driving rain, but never underestimate the value of a raincoat and umbrella. Not too far away is James Madison's home, Montpelier, which just emerged from a huge restoration; you can see Madison's friend Jefferson's influence on the house. Other suggestions?

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Vienna: Where can I find information about car services to Dulles? We are traveling internationally with two small kids so we were planning to drive our own car (with the large suitcases and two car seats), but its going to cost at least $150 to park the car for our trip. We thought it might be less expensive and less of a hassle to have someone else drive. Public transportation is out with the car seats. What other options might we have? Thanks!

Nancy McKeon: You might try Washington Flyer taxi service, which handles Dulles and also offers minivans. Call them at 703-572-8294. Generally, their web site says, one-way fare to Dulles from Washington (and you're a lot closer) is $51-$58, so you might come out ahead.

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Odd passenger story: On an overnight red-eye from Dubai to Delhi, I sat next to a man traveling with his baby daughter. He was determined to chat, even after I said bluntly, "I have to work tomorrow, I don't want to chat, I'm going to sleep," until I just shut my eyes and stopped responding. A bit later, he fell asleep, and his arm kept falling from the armrest into my lap. Each time I picked up his arm and dropped it back on his side - he didn't wake up, and it kept happening over and over for the rest of the flight. Finally, at landing, he asked me very persistently for my email address (I'm a woman in my 20s), despite the fact that he was married and traveling with his baby daughter.

Christina Talcott: Oh, gross. Too bad you didn't have a cat to put on your lap like the woman who wrote in last week.

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Live From Indianapolis: The Eiteljorg Museum is great. Western art. More interesting than it sounds. Right next door to it is the NCAA Hall OF Fame. Also, we hold the two largest sporting events in the world each year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If you time it right, you can drive around it. The museum is pretty cool if you like racing. If the weather is nice (just because it is bad in the morning doesn't mean it will be bad in the afternoon), we have a pretty nice zoo (almost next door to the NCAA Hall Of Fame) and a nice canal to walk along.

Christina Talcott: More on Indianapolis.

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Europe this summer?: Just back a little while ago from Iceland and it was fantastic, if a bit whirlwind for a super-extended weekend.

So now I'm starting to give thought to my next European adventure. I'm thinking of London (never been). How much in airfare should I expect to pay if I try for, say, the Labor Day weekend? Or is it markedly cheaper to go at some point after that?

Also, should I go ahead and buy a slew of pounds now, since the exchange rate is so comparatively good, or should I hold off until a little later?

Carol Sottili: There have been some sales to London for summer travel about $700 or so round trip. That's a good price for high season.

As for pounds vs. dollars, not my area of expertise, but I'd hold off.

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Washington, D.C.: I wanted to comment regarding your story on Ranthambhore and warn people that it is quite rare to actually see a tiger. We stayed at Khem Villas for three days, and while it was quite lovely, we only met one person during our stay who had seen a tiger. All we saw was deer-- an awfully long way to travel to see something I see all the time in Rock Creek Park.

Nancy McKeon: How sad. (And frustrating!) As the article said, with nature there are no guarantees. That's why the guides talk among themselves and line up to get into the park as early as possible. Like fishermen who trade info on where the fish are biting, they report on recent movements among the animals. But if they're hiding out, well, I guess there's nothing to be done about it.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Re: Combining US Airways and United miles. You can't combine them, but you can redeem them for tickets on any Star Alliance (US Airways, United, Lufthansa, etc.) airline by calling the airline which "holds" the miles, not the one you want to fly on. You will find that you'll be treated best by the airline which "holds" your miles - my miles are all on Lufthansa, and United/US Airways are never very nice to me (while the Lufthansa flight crews introduce themselves and offer to help). That may be a US vs. European airline thing, however....

Carol Sottili: Thanks.

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Flightmare: We flew on the red eye from Anchorage to Detroit with five kids ranging in age from one to 12 sitting in the three seats behind us while their parents sat in first class drinking. The kids must have been hopped up on caffeine because they didn't sleep a wink the entire flight. They acted like kids -- kicking the seats, running up and down the aisles, playing their video games with no earphones, etc. The flight attendants refused to do anything about it. The father and I almost came to blows the one time he stopped by to check on them.

I still have nightmares about it.

Christina Talcott: Oh, how awful.

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Arlington, Va.: For Arlington with the frequent flier question, since United and US Airways are both part of Star Alliance there shouldn't be a problem with both of them flying together as long as the flight they choose has award seats available to each of their programs. But they will have to call each program (or use the web) independently to make it happen. It could take a fair amount of logistics depending on where they are going and what class they intend to fly in, but it certainly should be possible. They can't combine their miles together, but they can each book a ticket for themselves.

Carol Sottili: That's what I thought - it may not be a slam dunk to organize it.

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My favorite encounter: I was on a flight from Dulles to San Francisco during the winter. The plane needed de-icing several times while we waited for our flight to be allowed to take off. The woman sitting behind me was very irritated that it was taking so long ... after all she was headed to a food fair and didn't we all realize that she owned a very important store??? Well, we all put up with it but were unhappy until she came out of the restroom and had the back of her skirt tucked into to her underwear ... no one told her about it ... we had a hard time keeping from laughing ...

Christina Talcott: Hahaha, that's awesome. I'm amazed you didn't laugh. In close quarters like that, even a giggle would have been infectious, I'm sure.

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Dillwyn, Va.: Later this year I will be flying from IAD to AMS, then returning from VIE to IAD. I've never used an "open jaw" ticket. Anything that I need to know about booking?

Nancy McKeon: The only thing I can think of is that on some airline web sites to book an open-jaw ticket you have to search for Multiple Cities or something that looks like that. Otherwise the default is to book you in and out of the same city.

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Northern Virginia: My husband, a Foreign Service Officer, served in Thailand a number of years ago. He was traveling on a plane between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and was seated next to two Thai women. They enjoyed themselves during the flight making funny comments (in Thai) about my very Western-looking husband (blond hair, blue eyes). He, having taken Thai language training through the State Department, understood virtually everything they were saying, but acted like he did not. Near the end of the flight, one of the women asked the other, "Do you think he speaks Thai?" And my husband, in his best Thai answered, "Who, me?" He said their looks were priceless!

Christina Talcott: That's terrific!

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contacting airlines: Through my experience I have found customer service lines hopeless and endless.

Through the power of web searching I have been able to find executives at airlines and their email addresses.

So I just contact them directly.

I did that with a local airport parking lot that is operated by one of the rental car companies with an issue regarding unhonored parking reservations for which they reimbursed me for the cost.

I have also found it works in trying to see a new doctor when you run into the wall of bureaucracy with trying to make a new patient appointment.

Carol Sottili: As long as they have a good assistant who opens/reads their mail, it could work.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi, I have a wacky (hopefully uncommon) fellow passenger story that just happened this past Saturday night. I was on a return flight from Denver (week of skiing) and the pilot announced that medical attention was needed and if there were any nurses/doctors on board to assist the passenger. A nurse was sitting in my row and, upon her return, she said that the person was, umm, drunk and the stewardesses thought that he may be having a diabetic reaction. After he "emptied" his stomach, they agreed he was drunk. Upon landing, the marshal escorted him off the plane where he was met by the police. They then asked for witnesses. Nothing like leaving a plane at 12:30 am to a man handcuffed, spread eagle, with your children asking what was wrong with him...

Christina Talcott: What a nightmare!

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for Rome honeymooners: More about pick-pocketing...

Be sure to read your guide book thoroughly on the section about pick-pockets and the many ways they will try to engage you -- tossing a baby at you (yes!), covering your eyes with newspaper, bumping you between two people, etc. Not to say you can't have a wonderful time in Rome (or anywhere), just be aware of your surroundings, as you would when walking in your home city.

Have a wonderful time!

Nancy McKeon: Hey, you're scaring me!

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Montreal: ...is becoming one of the new "hot" places to go for bachelor parties these days. It has gambling and a certain type of club that "straight single guys in our late 20s" would likely be into.

It's like a Cold Las Vegas.

Christina Talcott: There you go.

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Vienna again: Would Washington Flyer allow us to install our car seats in the taxi though? That was the main reason we hadn't looked into anything other than driving our own car in the first place...

Nancy McKeon: Not sure. Call them and ask.

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Germantown, Md.: Hi Travel Crew! Your articles on the Caribbean a few weeks ago has had me daydreaming at work about taking a beach vacation ever since - I'm sure my boss thanks you all for the decrease in my productivity! I've been checking airfares to St. Martin/St. Maarten for the end of June, and have been getting quotes around $400. Do you think this is a good price? Should I snap these up now or wait a little while longer?

Carol Sottili: $400 round trip with all taxes for convenient flight times/connections isn't bad.

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Montreal Experience: First off, there's nothing wrong with wandering around and drinking Canadian beer (um, I guess it's biere in Quebec.) But there's plenty of nightlife in Montreal and I think the jet boats will be running through the rapids on the St. Lawrence River by the time you'll get there.

At least try to speak a little French, though, because the locals do appreciate that you're making the effort. My personal experience from a couple of years ago when I went for a guys' weekend of hockey to see the Capitals play the Canadiens bears that out. I was the first one moving our second morning there, so I quietly dressed and walked into a small coffee shop across the street from our hotel, where I asked, "un cafe noir, s'il vous plait". The guy behind the counter asked me, "will that be regular or large." I mean, sheesh, at least I tried. I was grousing about how bad my French must have been for the waiter to immediately switch us to English when one of my friends asked me, "were you wearing your Capitals jacket when you went over there?" Oh. Maybe that's why he responded in English.

Christina Talcott: Haha, yeah, sometimes we scream "American" without meaning to.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Why do the best stories take place on Amtrak? Back in 2000 or 2001, WELL after cell phones had fully infiltrated and were no longer a novelty, I frequently rode the train between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. On one memorable trip a gentleman seated behind me, upon plopping down in his seat, promptly whipped out his prized phone and made a call. "Hey Jim, it's Bub. Guess where I'm calling from! Nope, the train! Blah blah blah." A short conversation ended soon after, followed by immediate dialing. "Hey Mary, it's Bub. Guess where I'm calling from! The train! Blah blah blah." Over and over and over, for at least an hour, with a long list of folks who were obviously anxious not to get entangled in a long call with this guy who just couldn't believe you could make cell calls from the train. Within a year or two the quiet car was installed on most Amtrak commuter trips, and I was never more grateful.

Christina Talcott: Wow, that sounds exactly like a guy I had on a train recently! Could it be the same guy, I wonder? And yes, I love the quiet car. Such a civilized but crucial invention.

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for the Montreal-bound: I really enjoyed Montreal when I visited - I have high school French (and that's the quality of it...) but I'm fairly certain you should be able to get around on your own. I imagine you'll be staying in tourist areas, which will cater to both French and English speakers.

As for things to do: for some reason, every time I've been there everyone has enjoyed the Montreal Botanical Gardens. I'm not sure if that would appeal to your group, but the last time I was there I was with a 17-year-old guy whose sole interest in life is sports, and he, ahem, didn't mind the garden.

Every year Montreal hosts an amazing jazz festival during the summer, but the same organization hosts performances year-round, and you may be able to get some quality music in. If not there, I would imagine there are good jazz bars in the city.

Definitely make a point of appreciating the food, and a Cirque show's a good idea. Check out museums and the waterfront. (Anyone in your group like amusement parks? If so - and it's open when you're there - plan a stop at La Ronde.)

Failing that, just walk around and carefully don't say "I told you so" when people complain about the selection, and then just mention it the next time the vote doesn't go your way: "Will it be as interesting for us as Montreal was?"

Christina Talcott: Ooh, last time I was there we did a Bateau Mouche boat tour (realizing why it's popular in Paris, with its lovely riverfront, and not in Montreal, where it's so industrial), and I really wanted to go to the amusement park there. And you're right about the music - they love their jazz there!

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Strange Bedfellows: I always end up sitting with strange people on flights. On a recent flight Atlanta - LaGuardia, my seat mate kept offering his specialty cocktails to taste; and he asked for dating advice (specifically, how to plan a weekend with a woman he'd picked up in a bar) because I "seem like a classy lady." A few years ago, I sat next to a man who held forth for several hours of a trans-Atlantic flight about the techniques he and his wife used to conceive children of different sexes. When I went to sleep so that I could avoid him, he watched me sleep -- as he told me when I woke up. He said I had the 'face of an angel' while sleeping. Female, late 30s, used to dealing with weirdos in the air.

Christina Talcott: Disgusting!

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Reston, Va.: I once flew a late-night flight from Salt Lake City to San Diego thinking I'd lucked out with my aisle bulkhead seat. Problem was, my seatmates were a woman and her toddler. Great, I thought, this kid's going to be a nightmare. Turned out the kid wasn't actually the problem--yes, she cried, but she only did it when she dropped her bunny, leaned over to retrieve it, and got smacked repeatedly for fidgeting. I felt too bad for the little girl to be annoyed by her crying.

Christina Talcott: Oh, how sad.

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Lap of luxury: It has been years and years since I've flown anything except bare-bones steerage, but I managed to snag Business Class seats on AA to Puerto Rico using points. What fun extra stuff perks can I expect? Might they actually serve real food instead of half a stale granola bar?

Nancy McKeon: I haven't done AA biz class, but I imagine it to be like others, with some real food, a nice pillow, one of those cute little toiletry kits, better earphones and an attendant or two who actually notices you're on the plane! The best thing, though, will be the cushy seat and the space around you. Even that is probably not what it once was, but it's better than coach. Enjoy it.

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Bronx, NY: Strangest travel incident ever: I was flying back from the Middle East to the States on a Middle Eastern-flagged carrier. (I'm an American woman, BTW.) For whatever reason I was one of the first people to board the plane. I took my seat and was settling in when a "local" gentleman boarded with his approximately 2-year-old granddaughter. Looking harried, he dropped his bag on his seat (across the aisle from me), -plunked the kid in my lap-, and said, "Here, take her. I need to speak with the stewardess." The kid and I just kind of froze and looked at one another in terror. And he was gone for a good few minutes, too. The thing is, I don't like kids. Never have. I may be equipped with "indoor plumbing" but that doesn't mean I know what to do with miniature human beings. Thank goodness another (woman) passenger came along who did know how to distract the baby, who was fixing to start crying because she had been dropped into a scary stranger's lap.

Christina Talcott: Boy, lots of weird kid encounters on this chat today...

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Arlington, Va.: Hi,

I asked Dr. Gridlock this question earlier but he didn't have further info. Do you?

"Dulles Airport's Web page says the AeroTrain system is scheduled to open later this year. Do you have more precise info?"

Thanks!

Carol Sottili: There is no firm opening date. Look for it later, rather than earlier, this year.

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Rockville, Md.: Just wanted to share our plane ride experience. Last year on our first trip to Europe, we flew overnight from Dulles to London. There was a woman carrying a toddler in the seat next to ours. The toddler did not sleep the entire night and kept on grabbing us and spilling her milk on us. Needless to say we did not sleep much that night, but was still awake enough to walk an entire day in London.

Christina Talcott: And I bet you smelled delightful!

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Vermont: Montreal has a strong microbrew community, if that's of interest.

Christina Talcott: More on Montreal.

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Arlington, Va.: So, you're predicting the Canadiens won't make the playoffs? They still have a minor shot. But my guess is that the guys from Baltimore wouldn't have a prayer of getting tickets anyway. But the city would be full of energy. And they could always take a tour of the Bell Centre anyway.

It's kind of hard to tell them what to do in Montreal. It's a big city with all of the stuff big cities have, so without knowing what their interests are it is hard to say. They could go tour Olympic Stadium. Maybe take in a Montreal Impact soccer game. Hike Mont Royale. Take a trip to the Biosphere or the Expo 67 site. I enjoyed the botanic gardens. St. Joseph's Oratory is an interesting enormous church. Of course there's the Notre Dame cathedral in the old city. I don't speak any French and didn't have any trouble.

The city museum was also interesting to me. There is also plenty of "adult entertainment" if they are into that. And there's a casino. They should check out the Montreal tourism website for ideas. The subway is an easy way to get around town and sort of cool with the humming rubber tires.

Nancy McKeon: More on Montreal.

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FLL to MIA: There is a train that runs between the airports. $3/pp. I believe it takes 45 minutes between airports, probably faster than traveling on surface roads.

Here is the link to the schedule: http://www.tri-rail.com/schedules_fares/train_schedules.htm

Nancy McKeon: For the Miami traveler.

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For " Vienna": When we went to Florida to get to a cruise, we had our son drop us of at the airport and then picked us up when we returned. I have also done the same favor for a friend or relative in reverse -- even driven their car for them so they could have the convenience of car seats but not have to pay for long-term parking or park in a far off lot and need to take the shuttle bus with children and luggage. Do you have someone that can do this for you?

Nancy McKeon: Here's a thought for the travelers with car seats. Thank you.

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re seeing tigers: They are of course predators and very adept at staying hidden. A family friend showed us slides of his trip to Kerala and after showing us a slide of tall grass asked if we spotted the tiger. We had not, he then showed some close-ups taken with his high powered lens and we found ourselves staring straight into the eyes of the tiger who as it turns out was no more than 50 yards from the truck.

Nancy McKeon: Whoa. Thanks.

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Airport Transfers Ft. Lauderdale to Miami: Depending on how much time the person who asked about it has when transferring from Ft. Lauderdale's airport to Miami International Airport, the Tri-Rail commuter train has stops at both the Ft. Lauderdale airport and MIA. If the train schedule fits their schedule, the Tri-Rail takes about 45 minutes and only costs $3. Go to www.tri-rail.com for more information.

Nancy McKeon: More for the Miami-bound.

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Re: Montreal: There's a big casino there too. On the language side, I don't speak French and it wasn't a problem when I visited, as pretty much everyone there is bilingual (if someone at a store or restaurant starts speaking to you in French, just say you don't speak French and they'll change to English).

I don't have any weird plane seat-mate experiences, but my mom went on a trip to the Soviet Union in the early 1970s as part of a tour group. On one of the flights over there the guy next to her kept harassing her, so a gentleman a row or two ahead got up and changed seats with her. I'm happy he did, because otherwise I wouldn't be celebrating my birthday today (my mom and the gentleman got married in 1973, so I call him Dad).

Christina Talcott: And with that lovely story, we'll end today's chat. Thank you for joining us, and sorry we didn't get to all your questions!

For the chatter whose plane was delayed by de-icing from Dulles to San Francisco, and who was treated to a snooty woman's embarrassing moment, send your address to talcottc@washpost.com and I'll send out your tote. And for the Dec. winner whose tote never arrived, please resend your address and I'll put yours in the mail, too.

See you all next week!

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