Talk About Travel: Bus trip tales, London tips, tall airline passengers and much more

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, July 20, 2009; 2:00 PM

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel Section Flight Crew is at your service. They were online Monday, July 20, at 2 p.m.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel discussions.


Christina Talcott: Hello, dear chatters, and welcome to this week's edition of Travel Talk! Joining me today are Zofia Smardz and Joe Yonan, all of us ready at our keyboards to take all your questions and comments and pass along your always-excellent advice for your fellow travelers.

I hope you enjoyed our jam-packed section this week, with stories on Liba, music in Mexico's San Miguel de Allende and Nashville, riding ponies in Wales and gold-mining in Virginia.

Last weekend, a loved one of mine endured what may have been the worst bus ride ever - a fifteen-hour ordeal that included layovers, an overbooked bus, one noisy drunk and a driver who simply vanished (not while driving, thankfully!). I've endured my share of bad bus trips over the years, but lately I've been spoiled by cushy rides on the new bus services between New York and Washington. If you have a bus-related travel story to share, send it in, and my favorite wins a black golf towel and a beigeShoul.

Ready? Let's go!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew, Going to Visby in Stockholm for 2 days during the second week in August. Do you have any must-see recommendations for Visby or the surrounding environs? I'll be there for only two days but I'd like to take in a little bit of nature, if even for a half-day, and still see the town.

Christina Talcott: Visiting the Botanical Garden shouldn't take up too much time, yet it's supposed to be a beautiful oasis. It sounds like exploring the medieval walled city, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, should take a while. Who out there has been to Visby and can offer advice?


Washington, D.C.: Hi Flight Crew!

I'm going to Japan over Thanksgiving with my boyfriend for about 10 days. I know we want to see Tokyo and Kyoto - is it reasonable to add something else in, or will that take all of our time? Any hotel suggestions? (Ryokan in Kyoto, maybe?) Can't miss sights? It's the first time in Japan, but not Asia, for both of us. Thanks so much!

Christina Talcott: I think 10 days for Kyoto and Tokyo will be perfect, especially since there's so much to see and do in both cities (see our archive of Japan stories). When I was in Kyoto I had a lovely stay at the Gion Hatanaka ryokan in the heart of the Gion district (where you're likely to see geishas walking to work along the narrow streets). Back in 2006 we ran a story about Tokyo on the cheap, with hotel suggestions, but does anyone out there have other ideas?

Joe Yonan: Make sure to hit the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. I stayed in the Granbell Hotel in Shibuya in Tokyo and loved it; great location, mod little rooms, good price. In Kyoto, my friend and I splurged for just one night on the incredible Hiiragiya ryokan, where the baths and the service and the amazing meals were worth it.


Washington, D.C.: I recently learned that I have a week's worth of vacation time that will expire if I don't use it by the end of the summer, so my husband and I are now trying to get out of steamy D.C. for six or seven days in August. Any suggestions on cost-conscious places to go this time of year? To give you an idea of recent trips we've taken: Our honeymoon was at a yoga retreat in Jamaica, and we did two weeks in Central America the year before.

A location that wouldn't involve massive time changes or jet lag is a bonus.

Joe Yonan: Sounds like you might appreciate something pretty laid back. Check tomorrow, when we'll post a story about Bayside, Maine, with details on how to pull off a zone-out-in-peace trip there. Could be just the ticket.


Fairfax, Va.: I plan on taking the train between Warsaw and Krakow, Poland. Is anyone familiar with the differences between 1st and 2nd class train travel in Poland?

Zofia Smardz: I haven't traveled by train in Poland for a number of years, but when I did, the rule was always to go first class. Trains tended to be crowded and slow. But that was when the entire system was controlled by a single state-run railroad company. Nowadays, there are more operators, and more Poles have cars, so there's more competition for passengers. I don't know how that's affected service or accommodations, but maybe someone out there has traveled by train in the past couple of years? Let's hear from you, if so!


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, Flight Crew. I'm flying on a Delta Connection (Comair) flight out of BWI next week that uses a Canadair Regional Jet 100. It's been a long time since I was on one of these small jets. Will I be able to fit my standard size rolling carry-on in the overhead bin? If not, about how much space for carry-ons is there?

Joe Yonan: No, I doubt you'll be able to fit a standard carryon in the overhead. According to the aforementioned Seat Guru, the 50-seat CRJ, if that's the one you mean, fits only an 18in x 14in x 7in suitcase in the overhead. But fear not: On these small planes, you "check" your bulkier carry-ons at the aircraft door, and retrieve them there on the way out, without having to go to baggage claim.


Photo contest: Since there has been a staff changeover, how will the photos be judged? Is there any bias towards a photo theme? What are the categories? If I can only submit one photo I would like to have some idea on what type of photo to submit.

Joe Yonan: Just send us your most captivating entry. Editing is hard, isn't it? Our only bias is against things we've seen a million times before: lighthouses in New England, tropical sunsets and the Eiffel Tower lit up, from underneath. (I've taken that last one myself.) There are no categories at this point; depending on what we receive, that could possibly change, but I doubt it.


Arlington, Va.: We're going to Europe in October for our honeymoon, 16 days in 5 countries. Is it verboten for women to bring purses? I guess I'll do a money belt, but I'd like a purse for camera, map, lip gloss, etc -- things that just don't fit in the pockets of women's pants. Is that a bad idea? Thanks!

Christina Talcott: Why wouldn't you bring a purse? In most instances, you're perfectly safe carrying your money and valuables in a purse that has a zipper. If you want more security, consider getting a bag with a flap top and/or a slash-proof strap (Magellans and Travelsmith carry a variety of theft-proof bags.


Delmar, Md.: My wife and I are flying to Seattle for a long weekend before taking a 7 day cruise out of Seattle to the inside passage of Alaska. I plan to rent a car at the airport but want to know if I can drop it off at the cruise terminal or do I have to return to the airport car rental and catch some other transport to the cruise terminal.

Joe Yonan: You certainly can, but you need to rent from Budget to do that. Budget is the designated rental company at the cruise terminal(s), but it operates from an office downtown, a mile from one cruise terminal and a couple miles from the other. Make sure you tell the Budget agent you want to do this, but the agent I spoke to on site in the downtown Seattle office (on 7th Avenue) assures me that it's doable.


Baltimore, Md.: I drove to Connecticut for the weekend. Friday afternoon it took AN HOUR to get across the Delaware portion of I-95, about 14 miles. There were also some slowdowns on the NJ Turnpike. Coming home, I drove west into Pennsylvania, then took route 78 to Allentown, Harrisburg, and I-83 to Baltimore. The trip north was 300 miles and took six hours. The trip back was 360 miles but only took five and a half hours, and it was a very pleasant drive.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for the great tip! That Delaware stretch of 95 is hell, for sure. The backup at the Delaware toll plaza can be murder; even if you have an E-Z pass, you can't get around the backup because it starts several miles out. Another way to avoid some of that is to get off 95 at Newark and take secondary roads that will put you back on I-95 past the toll plaza.

Zofia Smardz: Here are Dr. Gridlock's directions for that Newark detour off I-95. They're written for traffic heading north, but just reverse them for the southbound trip.

Zofia Smardz: It would help if I put the direction in, wouldn't it? Here they are:

Background: Backups at the Delaware toll plaza are virtually inevitable, and this is a pretty quick way to scoot around them. It also saves a few bucks. Watch For: Local speed limits. Slow down from highway speeds on these secondary roads. You'll still be plenty of miles ahead of your fellow travelers. Detour: From I-95 north, take Route 279 toward Newark, Del. Take the first right onto Iron Hill Road. At the end, turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road. Stay on that for a bit, then turn right onto Route 896 (South College Avenue) and I-95 will be about a quarter-mile down the road.


Washington, D.C.: I am going to have a five hour layover in Heathrow Airport before boarding my flight back to DC. Do you think that is enough time for a quick, focused visit into London? Does Immigration allow people in the country who want to have lunch in town?

Joe Yonan: Thanks to the fabulous Heathrow Express into Paddington station, you can indeed zip into town. You won't have a ton of time, since you do have to allow for getting through Immigration and then back through security, but you should have time for lunch. Beats sitting in the airport, don't you think?


Washington, D.C.: This question is for the female Flight Crew: what's your ideal/favorite travel handbag? I'm at a loss for what to carry to Europe for a week-long trip that will surely involve lots of guidebooks, water bottles, cameras etc.


Christina Talcott: I'm always over-stuffing one of my Le SportSac totes, which, granted, isn't the most comfortable thing to shoulder for days on end, but it can hold a whole heck of a lot, is super-sturdy and is easy to wash. However, a smaller bag with a strap I can sling over my shoulder is more comfortable; I used one about this size and style and loved it till it fell apart.


Bowie, Md.: The PERFECT bus trip - college, early '70s. The Knickerbocker Club of Niagara Univ, whose only purpose was to charter buses from college back to NYC for holiday breaks. EACH bus has 2 'classes' - drinking and non-alcoholic. Minimum of one keg, packed in ice, in a stolen university trashcan, in the rear of each bus and a trashcan filled with soda in the front. The trick was being able to vault over the trashcans to get to the restroom in the back. Made an 8hr plus trip easier to take, that's for sure, and made quite a sight at the NYC Port Authority bus terminal rolling through an empty keg to a parent's waiting vehicle on 8th Avenue - had to return it, eventually, to get the deposit back.

Christina Talcott: Oh man, was that even legal? Sounds like fun, thanks!


State College, Pa.: Here's a positive bus story: When I first moved to Chicago, I was 20, and right out of college. I commuted downtown by Metra (commuter rail) and then took a bus to my office. My very first day taking the bus, I was nervous about recognizing where to get off, and tried to follow the bus route on my big map (the driver wasn't announcing the stops). A woman standing next to me asked where I needed to go (Michigan and Ontario), and told me to put my map away, that she'd let me know when we got to my stop. When we arrived at my stop, I got off the bus and was trying to orient myself as to which direction I needed to walk on Ontario. Two men came up to me, and one said, "We heard the conversation on the bus and wanted to make sure you knew where you were going from here. Do you need any more help?"

I was absolutely amazed that complete strangers would help someone get to where they were going--on a busy Monday morning, no less.

I heart Chicago.

Christina Talcott: Aw, what a sweet story. It's amazing how far a little kindness will go when it comes to helping people with public transportation. Good to remember that next time you want to yell "STAND ON THE RIGHT!" to clueless tourists on Metro escalators.


Laurel, Md.: Single adult getaway to unwind. Need a 2-3 day break within a 3 hour drive of Washington metro area. Would like relaxing quiet atmosphere, preferably not a lot of youngsters. The only other requirement is trying to keep accommodations under $400 - $500.

Zofia Smardz: How about the Kent Manor Inn on Kent Island, Md.? It's just on the other side of the Bay Bridge. Lovely inn in an old mansion, tucked away off the beaten path, on verdant grounds. Sometimes they have wedding parties, so you might want to check, but we've been there even when there were weddings and it was amazingly quiet. The Sunday brunch is famous, folks come from all around just for the brunch, so you'd have to be sure to reserve in advance. Kent Island is a sleepy little place, but you can bike or hike or just sit in the sun and read. Here's a story I wrote about Kent Island.

A Washington Post colleague suggests Poplar Springs, a spa in Loudoun County.

Let's throw this out to the chatters. Other suggestions?


Raleigh, N.C.: Visiting England (London and Oxford) for the first time this August, over 6 days. What would be your 'Top 5' list of places to see or things to do?

Zofia Smardz: 1. Take a ride on the London Eye, the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe.

2. Climb to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral (378 steps)! Be sure to stop and try out the whisper thing in the Whispering Gallery.

3. Take a boat ride down the Thames.

4. Take a tour through Highgate Cemetery, spooky old burial ground and a must-see.

5. Visit the Dickens house and the Keats house.

6. The Tower of London.

7. Tour the Shakespeare theater.

8. Gotta catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

9. Shop at Harrod's, Fortnum & Mason and Liberty.

10. Head out to Hampton Court in Richmond and see how Henry VIII and the other royals lived.

There, that's more than 5. And I bet there are chatters out there who can add other great things. Folks?


Washington, D.C.: Speaking as someone who has family in Poland and having done the Warsaw to Krakow trip many times, DEFINITELY buy the 1st class ticket.

Zofia Smardz: Here you go -- looks like a pretty definite, and definitive, answer!


Washington, D.C.: Just want to say that I loved the article on Liberia. You guys have been doing a great job of running off-the-beaten-path articles--keep it up!

Joe Yonan: Thanks! So glad you liked it.


Silver Spring, Md.: What are tall airline passengers to do?

We (I'm 6'2" with a 34" inseam and she's 6'4 with a 37-inch inseam) just returned from 4 flights to/from Europe. When we could get an exit row seat things were fine but if not, it's hell in economy.

We're not 300-pound passengers who need to buy an additional seat, we're just tall and long-legged. We can't afford to buy business-class seats regularly. What options do we have or perhaps the question is: Are the airlines listening?

Joe Yonan: I doubt that the airlines are listening, especially not now, when they're trying to stop the bleeding of money. But you do have some options. Have you looked at Seat Guru? I use this every now and then to see if I can avoid particularly bad seats and steer toward the better ones. I'm (only) 6', but I hate having no legroom. Anyway, on Seat Guru, you can look up the actual model of the plane and see the site's evaluation of every seat. For your purposes, though, what might be helpful is to look at the comparison chart, which shows that for domestic coach, some of the most legroom (listed as "seat pitch") can be found on American 767-200, many of the United planes, and the Jet Blue Airbus A320. There are also charts for international coach, domestic first class, all of the variations. For a few other finds, check out this video by travel guy Peter Greenberg.


Nashville: I'm going to Quebec City for a wedding and will have 1 day to explore the city. Any must see spots or recommendations?

Christina Talcott: You can get a nice tour of this lovely city by lacing up your walking shoes. Stroll down the Grande Allee and over to the Frontenac to grab a drink, amble along the boardwalk overlooking the St. Lawrence River, then take the stairs or funicular down to the Lower City to poke around the galleries and cafes down there, check out the Petite-Champlain mural and browse the food vendors at the Old Fort Market.


Ashburn, Va.: Another tip for an NJ Turnpike detour, after crossing the DE bridge, take the first exit onto Rt. 295. There's virtually never traffic. From there exit at the McGuire AFB exit (I think it's 56) and follow the signs back to the turnpike. It will put you on at Exit 7, plus it's a great time to fill up on the cheap Pilot gas.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for this tip, too! I'm going to try it next time I'm coming back from my annual trip home to New England.


Fairfax, Va.: Here's my bus related story. About 6 years ago my wife and I were traveling to France and Italy. We flew out of JFK and arrived in Nice early morning. We planned on taking the train directly to Bordighera, Italy. This should have taken only a couple of hours and we certainly expected to be there in time for lunch. After waiting over an hour for the train we find out that there are some problems with the tracks and we have to get off in Monaco, take a bus to Menton, then a train to Ventimille and then another train to Bordighera. Of course everything was crowded, and confusing particularly the unruly crowd at the bus terminal. And it started to rain. We finally made it to what we thought was our last train but we missed our stop and had to get off the next stop, wait about 45 minutes and get a train back. We finally got to the hotel about 6:00 p.m. exhausted but once we opened the doors to our ocean front balcony all was forgotten.

Christina Talcott: Woah, I can't believe you made it after all that. At least you were in plenty of time for dinner...


Domestic Air Costa Rica: Hi, do any of the chatters have experience with Sansa and Nature Air in Costa Rica? The latter is significantly cheaper and we have a group so splitting a taxi to get to the domestic airport is not a big deal. Just wondering if quality is better on one airline or the other.

Christina Talcott: I'm throwing this one out there. Chatters, any advice?


Arlington, Va.: For the person who is going to Paris soon: one truly wonderful side trip is to visit the gardens at Versailles on certain afternoons when the fountains are turned on. When I was there a few years back, the waters flowed on Sunday afternoons for about 2 hours. An enormous crowd sat waiting on the steps above the Bassin d'Apollon and the Grand Canal, and applauded as the fountains began spitting, sputtering, and finally soaring. And much closer is the Paris Plage - the artificial beach created by the mayor of Paris on the north quai of the Seine; when I was there, it ran until late August.

Christina Talcott: Great suggestions, thanks!


re: Poland: I traveled by train between Warsaw and Krakow about 3 summers ago in 2nd class. Seats were assigned into a compartment. It was so hot in the compartment (our fellow passengers insisted on keeping the window closed) that I went and sat in the hallway on the little jump seat.

If 1st class includes a/c, go for it. Otherwise, 2nd was fine.

Zofia Smardz: Another take on the Polish trains -- thanks!


Washington, D.C.: I plan to carry-on cremated remains for a flight to Honolulu via United. The TSA Web site states "Once the passengers complete their travel, they can visit their local TSA's Funeral Home Partner who will transfer the remains from the temporary container to the permanent container free of charge. The complimentary "Remains Transfer Service" has been embraced by the funeral industry and already many funeral homes have requested to become partners in this important customer service effort." I can't find a list of participating funeral homes on the TSA Web site. Can you help? Thanks.

Joe Yonan: I got TSA spokesman Greg Soule on the phone, and he said that the agency stopped maintaining the list on the Web when the numbers got so large that it became too cumbersome. That's the bad news. The good news is that pretty much every funeral home asked to be included in the program, so he thinks you'll have no trouble finding one that can help.

For those who don't know what this is about, he explains: "When a crematory container goes through the X-ray, our security officers have to see what's inside in order for it to be a carry-on item." That doesn't work if the container is metallic, for instance, which renders it opaque to the X-ray machine. In those cases, TSA asks that passengers instead carry the remains in temporary containers made of plastic or wood that can be scanned.


Deodera, NT: The arbitrary rules on carry on personal items limit products to a weight of 3 ounces. No company makes a 3 ounce spray deodorant. There are 3 ounce roll-ons but I can't use them due to handicap. Any suggestions?

Joe Yonan: I see some smaller sprays in my poking around on the Web, but looks like they're smaller companies whose products might need to be mail-ordered. Check out this link.


Seattle: The past few chats I have seen a few people in each chat ask questions about Seattle.

Mt Rainier: Drive time to the park from Seattle is about 2:30 min drive to Sunrise or Pardise. Right now The road in the park connecting paradise to WA 123 on the east side is closed (due to open in early august).

San Juan Islands: There are a couple of different ways to get there. There are boats that leave from Seattle, Anacortes (hr north of Seattle), Bellingham (90 min drive north), and Port Townsend (2 hr drive with ferry from Seattle). From all locations they have whale watching tours for finding Orca whales. With some they stop in Friday harbor for a few hrs. From Seattle they have a passenger boat that goes to Friday harbor. From Friday harbor there is also whale watching boats. From Anacortes there is a state car ferry that will take you to Friday harbor on the main island as well as stops on Orcas island, and Lopez island. All three locations are B&B areas. An overnight trip would be the easiest to explore the island. On the main island where Friday harbor is there is a state park on the west side of the island that you can see whales from.

Olympic NP: The main visitors center in Port Angeles is about a 2:30 drive from Seattle either by road or by road and ferry. From Port Townsend they have car and Passenger ferries over to Victoria where you could do a day trip up (passports or enhanced Drivers licenses required).

On the Olympic Peninsula: Forks the home of twilight is about 75 min from Port Angeles. From Forks you are 45 min drive from Hoh rain forest in Olympic NP, about 45 minutes from the coastal 101 stretch of Olympic NP and Kalaoch lodge, and about 30 minutes from La Push and Rialto beach. If you want to go and see the beach in the park the best choice and easy access is Rialto. On the other side of the Quellyutee river in La Push you have an Indian reservation and more beach access to the Nation Park, but the hikes are a little longer. Rialto you park at the beach.

To get across the cascades is about a 2 hour drive to get to Leavenworth, Wenatchee, or Yakima. On that side you have many farms for apple trees, other fruits, and wines.

North Cascades National Park: This is about a 3 hour drive from Seattle. The national park itself has the least road access of any national park in the lower 48 that is not an island or in the water. The only roads that pass through the park are part of a national recreation area and not the park itself. Outside a drive through, to really access this park you need to do overnight hikes. From Chelan on the east side of the mountains you can take a plane to Stehekin in the national park that has no roads but some places to sleep. The national recreation area is Ross Lake where you can take a boat up the river to near the Canadian border and stay overnight.

Seattle to Portland: its about 2:30 drive depending on the traffic. Besides the city you also have the Columbia Gorge which is about a 20 min drive into the gorge and the gorge goes some 75 miles. Also about 75 min from Portland is Cannon Beach and Seaside along the coast. Astoria is 30 min drive north of seaside.

Washington state has two beach areas outside of Olympic national park. Long beach north of Astoria and the Columbia River and Ocean Shores near Aberdeen.

Mt St Helens: its about a 90 min drive from Seattle to the exit and then a 45 min drive to Johnson Observatory. The east side of the mountain where the blast zone was, where the evidence of it has been kept has been closed the past two summers because of winter road damage along the access road.

If you want to climb a mountain as an amateur: Mount Si 30 minutes from Seattle and also near there is Snoqualme Falls.

Joe Yonan: Wow. Many thanks for this great info.


Re: London: Two suggestions: Take in Evensong at Westminster Abbey, which is free and lasts around 45 minutes. As well, foreigners can only take the tour of the Houses of Parliament during its summer break, which starts August 3 (get tickets on the Ticketmaster UK website).

Joe Yonan: Nice. Many thanks.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi! I'm going to Burlington, Vt. for a wedding later this summer. We are staying for an extra couple of days after the wedding. Any ideas of fun things we could do? Thanks!!

Christina Talcott: Burlington's a great place for active pursuits (biking the Burlington Waterfront Bikeway, hiking in nearby parks), lazing on the beach at Lake Champlain, dining and beer-drinking, shopping and exploring the countryside by car. (Find details here). I believe there was a thread about where to eat in the Burlington area last week. Anyone have other suggestions?


Bus story: Many years ago we attended a huge international biomedical conference in Toronto. One evening we were provided dinner and entertainment at Black Creek Pioneer park (I think that was its name). Our hosts also provided charter bus service between major downtown Toronto hotels and the venue, since most conventioneers didn't have cars (as well as to reduce parking congestion at the site, possible drunk driving, etc.).

Among the complimentary gifts that guests received at the party were small bottles of a maple liqueur, of which we all snapped up extras eagerly to take back as souvenirs. On our bus ride back into town, the back of the bus was occupied by a highly inebriated and rowdy group of guys who were feeling no pain -- that is, till one let out a scream that was unmistakably not out of hilarity. Turns out he'd sat on his bottle of maple liqueur, and the glass had broken, cutting through his jeans and into his flesh, causing him to bleed profusely.

Fortunately there were a number of doctors on the bus, so the patient was quickly examined and it was determined that his wounds were more messy than life-threatening. He was taken to an emergency room to have his cuts cleaned and stitched up (I always wondered whether the ER stitched up his pants as well).

Christina Talcott: Oh man, that sounds awful! Glad everyone was ok, though.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Japan - - A ryokan is interesting for a night or two, but at the lower priced establishments, the futon is thin, and on the floor. There may be no place in your room for lounging, just a couple of wooden chairs. Meals are included, so you have to be back at a certain time to dine. Then, you may be shooed out of your room for an hour while they make it up for dinner. I stayed at 6 different ryokans on a recent trip, and they varied widely. That said, the Kyoto Park Hyatt is one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed at. The breakfast was fabulous. I would stay there exclusively next time. For the most amazing experience ever, take the bullet train from Tokyo for an hour and stay at Hoshinoya for a night or two, a mountain spa with villas. See There is a huge outlet mall at the train stop.

Joe Yonan: Thanks much. That reminds me. If you like ramen, make sure to take a side trip from Tokyo to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama.


Wheaton, Md. -- Good Bus Story: My grandmother worked as a house mother at private girls schools and colleges; as such she had the summer off. She would buy a one or two month pass and then travel all over the country during the summer, most of the time using local buses. She would meet a wide variety of people during her travels by starting conversations with her seat mates. When she met an interesting person, she would add them to her address book and continue the friendship by mail. Sometimes she would add them to her itinerary on a subsequent summer.

After her return, she would regale us girls with stories of her escapades, telling us all about the friends that she made and relatives and friends that she visited during the summer. She also would send us postcards of places that she saw. This is how my sisters and I learned about the United States beyond where we traveled.

Christina Talcott: She sounds like a wonderful, adventurous lady!


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Crew - I'm off to the Berkshires in mid-august for a wedding. I will have a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings to check things out. It's near Great Barrington, Mass. - in the far South West of the state. Any thoughts on something fun to do? I love wandering around small towns, shopping, cultural activities (museums, art, music), etc. Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: If you like pretty small towns, don't miss Stockbridge. It's just a stone's throw away and a throwback in time. It's the Norman Rockwell village and it feels like it. You can visit the Rockwell Museum, have lunch on the porch at the Red Lion Inn, then drive out to The Mount, Edith Wharton's home and now a National Trust site. It's beautiful.


Washington, D.C.: How's this for a "bus ride from Hell?" In '06, my mother and I took a bus trip to Orlando w/other folks from her Florida retirement community. Upon our approach to Orlando's suburbs, our bus driver got lost looking for our hotel. He constantly went back and forth on the highway and got directions from the gas stations. We passengers later learned that the driver was taking directions from two passengers who had NEVER been to the Orlando area, which was why we kept getting lost! Fortunately, during our stay in the Orlando area, which included an excursion to Cypress Gardens and two meals at dinner theaters--the second dinner was New Year's Eve at the Arabian Nights dinner show--our driver did not listen to those passengers again, and we arrived safely home New Year's Day. After that trip, we decided to call that Orlando trip the "Bus Ride from Hell."

Christina Talcott: Oh, how awful!


RE: carry on personal items: Is it 3 ounces of weight or 3 ounces of volume?

Christina Talcott: Volume.


Quick getaway: Deep Creek Lake in Western Md.

I can vouch for Lake Pointe inn which does not accept children under age 16.

Zofia Smardz: Great suggestion, thanks!


Tsukiji: I agree that the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is fascinating but I think I read somewhere that they no longer let in tourists?

Joe Yonan: They closed off the pre-dawn auction to tourists for several weeks after a tourist reportedly licked the head of a tuna. Swear to God. But it's open again.


Sydney: We're headed to Sydney in September - any advice for some great places to see? We're thinking about the Harbour Bridge Climb and wonder if it's worth the cost. Thanks!!

Christina Talcott: Anyone done the Harbor Bridge Climb?


HNL again: I wrote in last week to ask your advice on fares from DC to HNL in August. Fares were at around the $800 level.

Just wanted to let y'all know: I gave up and used miles instead. Total cost: $10. I feel much better now. Thanks for the advice!

Joe Yonan: Good!


Portland: Good afternoon--I have an opportunity to go to Charlotte, North Carolina in October for a training and afterwards would like to spend some sightseeing time either in North Carolina or somewhere within a few hours drive (or farther if there is somewhere really fantastic to visit). Do you have any recommendations? I have never been to the south before and would love to visit somewhere beautiful, historical, cuisine strong, and entertaining. Your columns/knowledge has inspired me so much in the past so am looking forward to your input today. Thank you.

Christina Talcott: Get thee to Asheville! It's a two hour drive from Charlotte and well worth a visit. The restaurants are fantastic, there's history galore and there are concerts and plays and all kinds of street performers that you're bound to find something worth doing. Pick up a free copy of the Mountain Xpress when you arrive for a full list of activities.

If you've just got a day there, I'd recommend the hop-on, hop-off

trolley tour

(about $18), which takes you to interesting parts of town, including the River Arts District, where you can wander into artists' studios; Pack Square, where the museums are concentrated; Biltmore Village, where the workers who built the lavish Biltmore Estate lived; and the lovely Montford neighborhood, with Victorian B&Bs, offbeat restaurants and lots of green spaces. The

Biltmore Estate

is super-pricey (over $50/person), but the house is truly incredible, and the gardens and grounds are the last of Frederick Law Olmsted's masterpieces.

Anyone have other ideas about side trips from Charlotte?


Alexandria, Va.: For the England traveler:

If art is your thing, do the two Tates and take the boat between them. You'll get the cheapest scenic river tour that way!

British Museum. Even if only for an hour.

Agreed Tower of London and Hampton Court -- if doing both get the combined ticket; it's much cheaper.

Have a meal at a pub. And please have a pint of real ale for me.

Joe Yonan: More quick-London ideas.


To do in London: Have Indian food. London is one of the best places in the world for it. And try afternoon tea, with little sandwiches, cakes, and scones, at least once. Splurge on it at one of the big department stores or fancy hotels. (My favorite is the Woolsley.)

Zofia Smardz: Absolutely, these are must-dos in London. Thanks!


London, U.K.: If the honeymooners hit the U.K., they'll definitely see many, many women carrying bags (purses, especially large ones). Just be sure to keep a firm grip on it, please move it out of people's way in public transportation (that is, holding it down from your hand, instead of slung over your shoulder), keep it closed as much as possible - and if someone is threatening you with a weapon, you're more important than anything in your bag so hand it over! Then call the police, cancel the cards, call the embassy, etc.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for the advice!


Week in August: I would recommend heading up to Quebec - Montreal and/or Quebec City is just gorgeous in the summer. This summer in Quebec are free nightly performances of Cirque du Soleil and August is the Fete de Nouvelle France - lots of activities, booths, and such for the 1600s-1700s in "New France." My wife and I just returned from 6 days in the two cities and wish we can go back (depending on my schedule in August, we might!).

Joe Yonan: I love Montreal -- used to go there every year, if not more often, and miss it. You are inspiring me to get back.


Alexandria, Va.: For those of us sweaty and mosquito-bitten, could you guys write an article on the "Ultimate DC Staycation"? Say a week of sites for the staycationer. I suggest Wednesday be a rest day, where you stay under the AC and rent D.C.-themed movies.

Zofia Smardz: What a great idea! But hey, are you in the same D.C. I'm in? I've hardly broken a sweat all summer -- it's been the most amazingly mild season in decades!


London Bound: I will be in London next month and was wondering if there's enough to see and do in Greenwich to fill up a whole day.

I've also got one day in Bruges. The extent of my plan is to sample frites, beers and chocolates. Anything else that I should not miss during my brief stay?

Christina Talcott: Greenwich sounds like there's a lot to do (check out this story on it). As for Bruges, I don't see how you can ago wrong with an itinerary like that, but does anyone have other thoughts?


St. Paul, Minn.: My Alaskan cruise ends 8/09/09 at Vancouver. My passport expires 10/14/09. Will it still be honored? I'm told some countries require the passport to be current for up to 6 months after completion of the trip.


Zofia Smardz: Fortunately for you, as a U.S. citizen, you don't need a passport to travel to Canada at all, so no worries on that score. However, keep in mind that you now *do* need your passport to re-enter the United States from Canada. As long as it hasn't expired, it's good to get you back in.


Washington, D.C.: Love the chats! Any suggestions for easy trips out of Amsterdam? I have 3-4 days to kill before a wedding in Amsterdam and would like to try someplace new. I've done Paris, Belgium, Netherlands, London. I would like a beach, but that's not a deciding factor. Thanks.

Christina Talcott: What about Hamburg? It has beaches - kind of. There's also Normandy and Brittany, both with beaches...


Pittsburgh: Bust story, small world division:

Many years ago I was riding the bus to the DC area, and happened to sit next to a nice lady some 15 years my senior. We struck up a pleasant conversation, and she mentioned that she was originally from Fairmont, W.V. I replied that my (then) best friend in Pittsburgh, who was about her age, was also originally from the same town. You can guess the rest. My seatmate had known both my friend and her next-older sister in school all the way through high school, although they hadn't heard from one another in the intervening decades. Long story short, I exchanged addresses with my seatmate, and when I returned home a few days later gave hers to my friend, so they could all get back in touch. It was especially meaningful as my friend's sister died unexpectedly just a couple of years later.

Christina Talcott: Wow, that's incredible. Thanks!


Va.: Hello. do you also discuss travel in D.C.? Can I buy the 5 dollar ticket for the Washington Nationals today to see a game later this week? For friends out of town coming here. Thanks

Zofia Smardz: Not sure about this. Baseball fans out there?


Washington, D.C.: Bus Trip: Green Tortoise in the early 1990's(are they still around?) from San Francisco to Yosemite and environs, with a bus full of drunken Europeans. We slept in the bus and outdoors, had meals cooked outside in secluded spots, and went floating in a salt lake.

Christina Talcott: That sounds like a great time.


More in London: Tour the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum within it

See Sir John Soane's Museum--wonderfully quirky collection

Walk across the Millenium Bridge from St. Paul's to the Tate Modern

Visit Borough Market, not far from the Tate Modern on the South Bank

Take a London Walks walking tour

Shop at Liberty--lighter crowds than Harrod's etc.

Zofia Smardz: Great points, thanks!


Trains in Poland: The key to trains in Poland (and probably elsewhere), whether first or second class, is to reserve your seat. Buying a ticket in advance does not reserve a seat, so if the train is crowded, you stand.

I think the price difference between first and second class is minimal, so might as well go for first class if it's a trip more than a few hours.

I have not been to Warsaw, so cannot comment, but investigate Wroclaw, and great town with lots to see and do, and very few tourists. Krakow is beautiful but overrun with tour groups.

Hope this helps!

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for this!


For the London Traveler: When in London make sure to go to the markets!

Go to Camden market on the weekend! It has everything! Food, clothes, jewelry, furniture, antiques, everything! Great place to hang out and wander around. There was a fire there a few years ago, but I think everything is back on track.

Other fav markets and sites: Borough market (on the south side of the river near tower bridge) is an amazing food market! Giant wheels of English cheeses, food from all over Europe, enormous brownies, lovely produce. Make sure to check out the lamb burgers, they are excellent. (Sunday)

Portobello market is insane on the weekend, but it's fun to see Notting Hill and some crazy "antiques" among the real antiques. And it's a lovely walk from the tube station.

Regent Park, Hyde Park, and Hampstead Heath are lovely when it's sunny. Hampstead is a little out of the way, but it's gorgeous. Holland Park near Kensington High Street is lovely as well, and even has peacocks walking around.

Check out the museums in Kensington and if you're near Kensington High Street tube station, go inside and grab a cookie at Ben's Cookies! They are delightful.

I also second going to the Tower of London. I think I've been 3 times now, and I think it's still amazing!

Zofia Smardz: And more on London -- there's so much there!


bus story: Riding an official government bus in Ghana...the mate ties a goat to the top of the bus (but not very well). TWICE the goat gets a bit loose and his head bobs at my window -- neither of us very happy -- and I have to scream for the bus driver to stop. The mate, thinking he's smart this time, puts the goat in the trunk! An hour later, the driver thinks to ask the mate how the goat is doing. The mate reveals what he's done and the driver immediately pulls the bus over. We'd just passed a town and are now in the middle of nowhere. It's probably 90 degrees, mid-day sun. The goat is still alive, but barely. So they place him under the bus and we WAIT while the GOAT rests and feels better! Two hours and no-drinks-available-later... the goat is deemed well enough to travel. Ah, gotta love Ghana!

Christina Talcott: Oh, I'm so glad the goat was ok! And I hope you weren't in a hurry...


Raleigh NC: Bus story for you. Back in high school, in the early/mid 80's, I took many many bus trips with the marching band. One particular one leaps to mind...a tour of small towns in our state that didn't have marching bands, and performing for them. One of the young men on the bus brought his boom box, and his brand new Van Halen tape. Every town we left, whether we stopped or were just driving through, he'd play Happy Trails. Every single town. I now HATE that song. However, that wasn't the most fun. The most fun was when the busses pulled off the road in the middle of nowhere, the director entered the bus, and force-marched the person that started the strip poker game in the back of the bus off, and at the next town, a chaperone rented a car to take him back home!

Christina Talcott: What, no strip poker?! What kind of bus ride is that?!


For Costa Rica Bound: We flew Sansa on our trip to CR, from San Jose to Tamarindo. It was a tiny plane and they weigh you and your luggage to make sure they're not overweight. Our flight was delayed because there was a soccer game on and CR was playing. The flight itself was relatively smooth and quick.

Christina Talcott: Thanks for writing in!


Christina Talcott: Another great chat! Thanks to everyone for joining us and for all your bus stories. For the chatter with the bus-traveling grandma, please send your address to and I'll send you your prize. See you all next week!


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