Talk about travel: Amtrak, London eats, pet-friendly hotels, travel hats, D.C. sightseeing, British Airways strike, cruises, more

The Flight Crew
Washington Post Travel Section
Monday, March 22, 2010; 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. They were online Monday, March 22 at 2 p.m.

Don't forget to submit your vacation photos and photos of your pets on vacation to our photo galleries.

You may also browse an archive of previous live travel Q&As.


Andrea Sachs: Welcome Travelers, for another edition of you ask, we answer, or ask you back.

This week, we have trains on the brain.

Our query of the day: Have you had a good/bad/God awful/heavenly experience on Amtrak? Best answer wins a toy train set -- or something of equal or lesser value.


Columbus Ohio: Carol has mentioned the luxury hotel she was staying in during her last visit to San Diego. Would you please share the name of this hotel. We also will be traveling to Vancouver and Seattle at the end of April staying in each city for 2 days. Any suggestions on where to stay and what to see? We won't have a car. Love your chats!

Carol Sottili: Favorite hotel in San Diego is US Grant, located downtown. It doesn't have the views that you get from Manchester Hyatt, and there are plenty of other great hotels in surrounding areas, but I love the service. I've yet to meet a member of the staff that wasn't friendly, knowledgeable and professional. The only downside is that it costs $32 a day to park, but that's true of most downtown hotels. If you are patient and start looking far enough in advance, you can get a room there for $189 a night (and that rate sometimes includes breakfast).

Becky Krystal: As for the other part of your question, check out our Canada section for a bunch of articles on Vancouver. And Seattle has been a hot topic of late, so try browsing our March 1 and March 8 chats.


Dallas TX: Submitting early. Going to visit a friend in Athens this fall (October) and am seeing airfares around $1200. Is that usual? With 6 months I don't have to buy now so can watch but wondering what to expect.

Carol Sottili: That seems high. I'd hold out for under $1,000.


Vegas: We're going to Las Vegas in April so Sunday's article was timely. Part of the trip is business and we'll stay in a top of the line strip hotel. They won't discount the other days so we're shopping for someplace else. We don't have a lot planned (no gambling) so a nice hotel to relax in is worth it. I see some listings and few-but-good reviews for newer places near the Convention Center. Thoughts and comments?

Also thinking about going to the "Rat Pack" show. We're already reserved for a big fancy show so something in the under $100 range is what we're considering. Any suggestions for a not-more-than-R-rated comedy show?

Nancy Trejos: Hotel occupancy rates have been down in Vegas, so you can get all sorts of good hotel deals in Vegas. Some places where you can get discounts, credits or upgrades are: Las Vegas Hilton, Hard Rock Hotel, Treasure Island, Encore, Mandalay Bay, Paris Las Vegas, New York New York. Really, most hotels are doing something to lure in customers. I stayed at the new Aria Hotel in the recently opened City Center in January. I got a credit to use anywhere at the hotel plus a discount on my room (and the hotel room was lovely!)

As for shows, check

for deals. It looks like there are discounted tickets or seat upgrades for shows such as Criss Angel Believe, Comedy Stop and Marc Savard Comedy Hypnosis. Have fun!


Jamaica resorts: For the chatter last week wanting to know about quiet resorts in Jamaica: I highly recommend both Tensing Pen and Rock House in Negril.

Both are on the cliffs; Tensing Pen has lovely private bungalows and the most beautiful view, and Rock House has an amazing restaurant and morning yoga classes.

Since they are located just a half a mile from each other, my wife and I got the best of both worlds by staying at Tensing Pen but walking up to Rock House for dinner every night.

Becky Krystal: Appreciate the follow-up.


Silver Spring, MD: A general question for other travelers: I have a little dog (6 pounds). He is perfectly housebroken - no accidents ever - and he does not destroy anything other than his toys. However, hotels charge ridiculous rates for him to stay with us when we travel (upwards of $100/nt!). As such, he never comes on vacation with us, which makes me sad. I have been encouraged by friends to sneak my little doggie in to hotels to avoid fees. I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but I'm wondering if others out there have and if so, how it turns out, or if there are any other creative ways of circumventing these obscene pet charges. Thanks so much!!!

Christopher Elliott: Interesting question. I hear from a lot of travelers who try to hide their pets in luggage (carry-on, mostly) and hotel rooms.

Although the fees travel companies charge for carrying pets are often outrageous, I'm not sure if they justify hiding a pet. A better way to approach this issue is to leave the animal at home -- it's less stressful to the dog or cat -- or to question the fee when you are charged.

If enough pet owners resist these surcharges, the travel industry may back down.


Rockville cubicle: Really travel section? I'm trying to read your section regularly, but when did it become food, part 2? Am I the only one who's tired of reading about places to eat (flushing? huh?) and food-related tours and booze? It's very boring.

Joe Yonan: I'll confess that we do love our food here in the Travel section; I think of it as one of the three pillars of travel, along with lodging and transportation. For those other two, we've also been doing a lot more than we used to, between the weekly Bed Check column on inns and the regular features on consumer transportation issues such as baggage, buses, etc. But we do realize there are other things to do when you travel than eat, so we're trying to be conscious of it and make sure there's variety. (As for your "huh?" on Flushing, well, I can only say that you're missing out if you don't think it's worth a visit.)

But let me turn the question back around on you: What aspects of travel excite you the most? What do you want to see more of?


Washington, DC: I hope you or our readers can provide a helpful opinion. Considering a trip to Galapagos and Colombia in Dec. Most websites give you 24 hour-average temps but realistically will I be able to snorkle or scuba dive at the Galapagos or surf in Cartegena in December? Most websites are tourism agencies so or course they say ANY time of year is muy fantastico.

Andrea Sachs: Strap on that snorkel. The water temps are swimtastic in December. (This testimonial was not paid for by a tourism agency.)


Dining in London: I'm heading to London (first time) for a week at the end of April, and was looking for any good restaurant suggestions the chatters might have. I love a good meal!

Carol Sottili: I like Butlers Wharf Chop House - great views of the Thames and Tower Bridge and decent food. It's a little pricey, but they also offer a prix fixe menu.

Becky Krystal: If you're looking for something traditional, how about some pie and mash or, of course, tea?

Chatters, feel free to chime in.


Richmond, VA: I hear Charleston, SC is beautiful but I also hear not to go in the summer. Are there really "bad" months to avoid that place?

Zofia Smardz: Do you know the words "hot" and "muggy"? That's the South in the summertime. And Charleston is definitely in the South. But then, so is Richmond! And all that said, there is, of course, air conditioning everywhere. So it's a question of your tolerance for the heat, really. Charleston is truly beautiful and worth a visit anytime, I think.


Frederick, MD: Hello! I have a bit of an odd question: I'm going to Fortaleza, Brazil this July. I'm quite fair skinned, and though I'm a devoted sunscreen applier, I'm looking for a brimmed hat that I can take to the beach, hiking in the grasslands, and wandering through the city. Not only that, but one where my appearance doesn't scream "American!" Any thoughts?

Becky Krystal: Holly Thomas, who co-hosts our weekly Fashion Fix chat, had this advice:

H&M has a big selection of wide-brimmed woven hats at the moment -- I actually picked up one of their straw fedoras over the weekend. One way to avoid screaming "American" -- skip anything that ties or cinches under your chin. And make sure you're applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays!

Any other favorites from the chatters?


Silver Spring, MD: Hello - I have a guide book question: About how long can you expect the information in guide books to be up-to-date? Or does it depend on the locale? I hope to go back to London this year. Will my guidebook from 2008 still be good to use or should I plan to get a more recently published one? Thanks so much!

Christopher Elliott: I've written for guide books, and the answer to your question is "yes" -- but not all of it.

For example, the ski guide book I've worked for had information about the destination that doesn't change much from year to year. General descriptions about a place, or about interesting attractions, tend to be "evergreen-y" as they say in journalism, or not so time-sensitive.

But information about lift ticket prices, number of runs, new lifts -- that sort of thing changes every year.

I would probably upgrade your guidebook if you are using it for budgeting purposes. For general planning, you might be able to get away with a 2008 edition.


Washington, DC: I'm heading to Salvador, Brazil in October. Can use miles to fly into Rio, so the plan is to book those flights from the US and then book Rio (GIG) to Salvador (SSA) separately. Question: Any thoughts on how much time I'll need to leave for a layover in Rio to clear customs and get to the next gate (we likely won't be checking bags)? Or how much time to leave coming back? Thanks!

Andrea Sachs: Since you booking on two different itineraries, I would give yourself at least two hours between flights. Same on the return. Best to have more time than less.


Arlington, VA : I'm considering a cruise to Panama in October. I've read that its rain and hurricane season then - so will it be a complete rain out or rain here and there for a couple of hours? Also, the ship has been hit by outbreaks of the flu in the past. The cruise company says complete cleaning will take place, etc. etc. Should I be worried?

Carol Sottili: Norovirus can hit any ship. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention keeps stats on cruise ship outbreaks. As for rain, yes, October is the wettest month of the year. But there are some cruise-goers who prefer rain to sunny heat and humidity. I don't believe it typically rains all day, but there are frequent showers. Anyone been there in October?


Washington, DC: My husband just returned from a deployment in Iraq. We are thinking of taking a vacation together to reconnect, and I was hoping for some help with some last minute ideas. Not surprisingly, after a year in the desert, he's hoping to spend sometime near the water. Any recommendations for a last-minute, romantic sea-side vacation?

Nancy Trejos: Sounds like a lovely idea. Welcome back to your husband. It would be easy to get to Florida. Miami is one of my favorite spots. There are also great beaches in Fort Lauderdale. For something a little more off the beaten path, Andrea loved the Gulf Islands of Florida when she went last year. If you can venture farther, you should consider Puerto Rico. If you do, make sure you go to the beaches at Vieques. Belize is also a lovely place. My friend had an amazing vacation there last year. And if you want to be even more adventurous, you can get inexpensive flights to Cartagena, a truly beautiful city.


Springfield, VA: I don't know if this was a good or bad experience on Amtrak.

I had taken the Metroliner up to New York for a job interview on St. Patrick's Day one year. For the trip home I took the Regional train because it was cheaper (I was paying my own fare).

Downside of that is that I didn't realize how many St. Patrick's Day partiers from Wilmington and northeastern Maryland were using Amtrak as a "designated driver" to get home from Philadelphia. This was underscored when a group of guys decided to have a belching contest.

But on the other hand, I guess I could be thankful that none of them hurled, and I could say "better a belching contest than a farting contest."

Andrea Sachs: Good that they kept their Guinness and cabbage down since Amtrak's windows are sealed shut!


Baltimore, MD: I will be traveling alone to a conference in Madrid in June and I want to stay on to do some solo travel after the conference. I'm torn between an escorted bus tour from Madrid to Lisbon through Trafalgar or a Costa cruise from Barcelona around the W. Mediterranean. I'm concerned about which would be best for a female solo traveler who doesn't speak any other languages. I have been to Europe several times before, so that is not an issue. Do you have any thoughts/recommendations on the Costa cruise?

Andrea Sachs: Costa attracts European cruisers, so English might be a minority language, but you won't be completely lost, due to a cosmopolitan crowd. Trafalgar also attracts an international crowd, but English might be more prevalent. And while you might be the only solo traveler on the trip, you will be surrounded by many other groups and couples, who, as I've found, will most likely adopt you for a portion or all of the trip. That said, it's really about experiencing the Med by land or water. I personally prefer water and chafe after too much bus time.

Before deciding, check out the ship's review on or read up on the line at Trafalgar also has testimonials, but read them a grain of sea salt. Also, remember that you might be slapped with a single supplement, though Trafalgar has a roomie match service.


Harrisburg, PA: I've been stuck on broken down Amtrak trains twice. The first time, we limped into Newark (on my way to NYC), and had to wait for the next regular Amtrak train into the city (never the Metroliner or NJ Transit).

The second time, we broke down about a mile out of New Carrolton and had to wait an hour (on a very hot day without power and thus without A/C) for Amtrak train to find another engine to tow us to the station (while watching the Metroliners zip past us). New Carrolton was my final destination that day, so I'm not sure how the folks heading to DC or Richmond got there.

Amtrak doesn't seem to allow their customer service reps any latitude in solving problems caused by equipment failures. Airlines will book you on a competitor if their plane can't fly, but not Amtrak.

I love trains. I've ridden passenger trains on three other continents and in Canada. It's too bad we don't have a passenger rail system in the US. If Amtrak didn't have to use the freight rail lines, and was subsidized to the same extent as the highway system, we might have a chance. -SIGH-

Andrea Sachs: Ugh, the dreaded breakdown.


Amtrak: I LOVE Amtrak. I will never travel to NYC or Boston any other way. I think it's the ease of the whole thing: you get to Union Station 15 minutes before your train leaves. You get on with your rolling suitcase. You pick your own seat. The seats are wide and comfortable (nothing like coach class seats). You have a little plug for your laptop, you stick in your aircard and are connected to the Internet the whole way. You don't even realize the train is moving most of the time.

Sure, there are delays (Thanksgiving last year was a nightmare!), but for some reason, they bother me so much less than airline delays. I think it's because I'm not stuck in a metal tube 40,000 feet in the air with no where to go. You can walk freely between the cars and you generally just have more space.

I wish train travel was more reliable to other parts of the U.S. because I would NEVER fly. Love, love, love Amtrak!

Andrea Sachs: We love your spirit! Go, Amtrak!


Car-less vacations: What are some spring/early summer destinations that would be good for a vacation without the need for a rental? Besides camping, that is. Are there any U.S. destinations besides the well-known transit-friendly cities (i.e., NYC, Boston, D.C., etc.)?

Becky Krystal: Providence! I spent a wonderful few days walking around the incredibly pedestrian-friendly Rhode Island capital (my only time in a vehicle was taking the 15-minute express bus ride from the airport). And that was in the middle of January. Spring and summer would be an awesome time to visit, especially if you can time your trip to coincide with WaterFire.


Bowie, MD: Amtrak - well, probably in the days before they were called that, but I came to DC the first time when I was 10 years old by train from New York's Penn Station in April,1963. One memorable part of that train ride was the fact that I spent most of the trip down from New York in the bathroom. Not because I was sick, but that was before the days of being ecologically correct and when you flushed the toilet, you could see the railroad ties under the train flashing by....strange what would fascinate a 10 year old before there were handheld video games, etc.....

Andrea Sachs: Hope you didn't attempt that on the plane, too. I bet you could get sucked out!


Dog-friendly hotels: Please do not try to sneak your dog in. That just makes it less likely that more hotels will become dog-friendly. Instead, find hotels that charge more reasonable rates, or nothing. All Kimpton hotels accept pets...reward dog-friendly hotels with your business!

Joe Yonan: I would try to sneak my dog in more often, but I haven't been able to find a bag big enough to hold all 92 pounds of him. Maybe I could dress him up somehow?

Seriously, I second your Kimpton plug; they do dogs right. Go to to see lists of other dog-friendly hotel chains.


CoHi on the Hill: I loved the Vegas article; my trip was aborted by Snowpocalypse 3: Say It Ain't Snow in February so I'm hoping to go back later this year with your ideas in tow. However, the indoor sky-diving idea is something I don't want to wait to do! Are there any local places in the area that offer indoor sky-diving?

Andrea Sachs: Not local, but if you happen to be in Pigeon Forge, Tn.; or North Carolina, you can try--or rather attempt-- it. For an index of location, check out


Washington, DC: Not really a good or bad story, just a complaint. I like to take the Amtrak NE Regional up to NYC for day trips, then take the 3 AM back down the next morning. Usually works out fine, I put the tray table down and then rest my head on it and go to sleep for a couple hours. Only time it didn't work out so well was one time, after pulling out of some place in New Jersey, this woman sat down behind me and started talking to her seatmate (I think they were strangers) about her church. And how awesome her church was. And how awesome people who go to church are.

I'm totally fine with people being passionate about things, but not so much at 3:00 AM on a full train where other people are trying to sleep. Who even has that kind of energy at that time of night? I don't think she shut up until Wilmington.

And speaking of Wilmington, is there any point to the Acela except to keep Joe Biden happy? It only shaves a half hour off a NYC-DC trip at twice the price or more.

I swear I usually love Amtrak. I just had to get those two things off my chest.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for venting, I mean sharing.


Washington, DC: My husband and I try to take a 5-6 day vacation to a new country every year. For 2010 we'd like to arrange it around the holidays, and invite our parents and siblings to come along. Do you have suggestions on what locations we might zero in on? Someplace warm would be nice, as would someplace where English is widely understood (My in-laws are skittish about foreign travel). My husband and I have never stayed at an all-inclusive before, but it seems like something along those lines might make sense with a larger group of people?

Specific towns and hotels would be much appreciated.

Nancy Trejos: English is spoken in several of the Caribbean islands. I was just in Barbados, which has some of the most gorgeous beaches I've ever been to. I took a tour of the Crane hotel, which has beautiful rooms overlooking the water, swimming pools, restaurants, shops, and access to the beach. I also went to the Round House Inn and Restaurant, perfectly located on the East Coast of the island, which is more rugged, secluded, and, in my opinion, more interesting. The food there was delicious too, and the dining area overlooks the ocean. Andrea really enjoyed Jamaica when she went there last year. You can find some tips in her story. A friend last year went to Belize and raved about it. Other places you might want to consider: St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda. Any chatters out there have ideas?

Nancy Trejos: Following up on my Belize suggestion, my friend stayed at the Barefoot Beach Belize/Seaview Hotel in Caye Caulker and loved it.


Re: sneaking pets into hotels: My boyfriend and I were driving from Herndon to Los Angeles and taking my 6 year old cat with us, of course. She had already made the trip from Davis, CA to VA a few years before so it didn't seem like a big deal. One of the stops on our trip was a night in Nashville which is close to Franklin, TN where my grandparents live. With no reservations and our AAA book not providing any locations we were interested in (plus we had never been to Nashville so we were a little clueless) we found a hotel. It did not allow pets so after scouting it out my boyfriend checked in and opened a back entrance door so we could sneak my cat to our room. Well, he went back to the car to get our bags and I went to get some ice and I heard "MRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOW" over and over all the way down the hallway. My cat was screaming like I'd never heard before and there was no doubt in my mind that a hotel employee or other guest would hear her. There went our night in Nashville. I ate the $100 hotel fee and we headed to Franklin without our Nashville experience. I don't know about this cute little dog but animals often behave strangely when left alone in unfamiliar places.

Joe Yonan: Yes, they do. I stayed at a Kimpton once with my previous dog (RIP, Grom), and while he behaved himself, we met some poor people on the elevator who were all bleary-eyed and hostile to him, and it turns out that they were the only non-dog-owners put on the designated pet floor. The pet noises drove them crazy. Funny, cause I don't remember hearing a thing, but I think when you're a dog owner that stuff fades into background noise a lot of the time.


Arlington, VA: Headed down 95 to Charleston, South Carolina. Anywhere interesting to stop for a bite to eat or very quick site-see?

Zofia Smardz: Well, there's always Richmond along the way, where there's tons to see and lots of places to eat. But you know, I did that drive about 18 months ago, and the place I really wanted to stop was the Ava Gardner museum in Smithfield, N.C. I didn't, because time was short, but one of these days, I'm heading back. Check out the museum Web site, it looks interesting and tells you what other Ava-related sights there are in town. Might be fun!

Chatters, other thoughts?


I'll need to leave for a layover in Rio to clear customs and get to the next gate : I don't know if this is still true, but at least a few years ago Brazil was retaliating against the US's stringent foreign-air passenger policies by inflicting 1 to 2 hour lines on Americans entering their country. I know because it happened to an American friend traveling with a non-American spouse (who got through a different line much, much faster), and Brazilian authorities admitted they were deliberately slowing down Americans. If this is still the case, I'd suggest allowing more than 2 hours to change planes.

Andrea Sachs: Whoa, that's not good. Hopefully, we are better friends now, though of course we do still need to get a visa, which we didn't always need.


Pet fees, Arlington VA: I have little dogs too, and they love to travel and stay at hotels! Unfortunatley the rediculous prices the airlines charge (why is my dog under my seat more expensive than an extra ticket???) and the high surcharges by "pet friendly" hotels keep them and us at home. Now I realize that there are bad pet parents who cause problems (poop in the elevator, really people?). But there are bad human parents too and children still travel. I wish the travel industry would realize how much more demand there would be if their pet surcharges were more reasonable for the average person.

Joe Yonan: Your dog under your seat is more than an extra ticket? Wow -- tell me more. How much have you paid for this?


Arlington VA: AMTRAK About a year ago, a freind and I decided to do a ladies weekend in NYC. We are both professional women who travel a lot and had work to do on the train so we got in the quiet car. Before the train pulled out we were VERY lightly whispering about our plans and the conductor came up and told us we should leave the train because it was "no talking" (we were sitting right next to a sign that called it a "quiet car"---said nothing about NO talking). I moved across the eisle so she would know that we weren't talking. As the train moved a long and became fuller, I moved back, across from my friend but we both just read. At one of the stops----load nosies, doors open etc, I again very quietly said something to my friend only to look up and find that the conductor was watching us from outside the trian! She again came in and yelled at us to be quiet--NO TALKING or we would be removed from the train. And she sat and stared at us for the rest of the trip. BTW---there were others on the training talking. We were just single out. We decided to let in go and the rest of the weekend told everyone about the Nazi conductor.

And coming back---on the quiet train there was a teenager and Mother sharing and ipod and laughing out loud. The conductor did come by and politely and SOFTLY asked them to be quiet. A big difference from getting yelled at like we did!

Andrea Sachs: Ssh. This is the quiet Travel chat room.


Sunny, Calif.: Regarding San Diego, the downside to the U.S. Grant is the location. The Gaslamp is overpriced and cheesy, and not the best of San Diego. I'd recommend seeking a hotel in Old Town, which is still tourist oriented, but full of good food and entertainment. It's just as convenient to Balboa Park and the zoo, and gets you closer to the beaches.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the tip. A few years ago, I stayed at the Grant and was impressed. I got it through a package, though, so I did not pay inflated rates.


Washington DC: Thanks for the "Swimtastic" water temp answer on Galapagos in Dec. Since Cartegena is further north, do you think it will be warm enough to hang on the beach for Christmas?

Andrea Sachs: I was in the Galapagos this December and it was toasty hot. Cartegena will probably be a bit cooler, in the high 80s. Nice beach weather, but what's not: water pollution. Be sure you find a safe, clean beach.


Traveling with dogs: There are plenty of dog friendly hotels that do not charge high fees. Our dog (a golden retriever) loved to go on vactions with us. Before we moved here we stayed in Friendships Heights (one of the big chains). He loved riding the elevator. Barefoot Mailman in Ocean city is very pet friendly offseason. There are plenty of web sites for dog friendly hotels. Dogs love to travel cats hate it.

Joe Yonan: Right. Kimpton, as mentioned, and Motel 6 don't charge fees of any kind. Starwood calls itself pet-friendly, and indeed there are lots of packages/programs/services, but the fees vary by hotel, which can be frustrating.


important info for the person considering Trafalgar: I went solo, and my travel agent told me a tip--you sign up for a rommate, but if they can't find you one (and it has to be same sex), you get your own room and don't have to pay the suppliment. I took the risk, and sure enough, no one else in the group did (and there were other single people), so I really lucked out--I think I saved $600--the other three singles paid it. But I was ready with my credit card had they actually found me a roommate (and a list of excuses as to why I changed my mind!)Traf. is the only tour company who offers that option, and it worked great for me.

Andrea Sachs: Great tip, Solista. Thanks!


Washington, D.C.: I recently took an Amtrak train to Richmond a weekend. On the way down, no problems, but on the way back, the train was delayed about 2 hours coming back to Washington. I was sitting near two women visiting from Australia, who took the opportunity to tell me that while their train system is bad, ours is HORRIBLE and I should do something about fixing it.

Oh, and just last week, Amtrak called me to do a follow-up survey on this particular trip, which has never happened before. I was pleasantly surprised by this, since it gave me the opportunity to tell them about the problem on the return trip.

Andrea Sachs: That seems so common, the two-hour delay. Hope you put a pen to paper and told them what happened.


Rockville, MD--Road Trip Help!: We are planning to drive from Germantown MD to Knoxville TN at the end of April. Apparently it will be an 8 hour + drive. We want to leave on Thursday afternoon then drive for a while and stay in a place where we can have options on things to do (caves, parks etc) the next day (Friday). We are planning to come back on Sunday and stop somewhere interesting so we can do something on Monday morning and then come back. Any suggestion on what towns we can make our two stops? We will be traveling with a dog. Thanks!

Becky Krystal: I'm guessing you'll be going down I-81, so you'll have tons of options. Look into Roanoke or Staunton. Caves and caverns dot the Shenandoah Valley, so you can try the usual suspects, including Luray, Endless and Natural Bridge.

Nancy Trejos: If you have time, check out Gatlinburg, Tenn. It's not far from Knoxville, and it's a charming town. I stopped there during my Tennessee road trip late last year.


Chicago: For the 1st time London traveler: Eat a traditional English breakfast at the Stockpot (Haymarket St.?) Balan's in Soho is reliable and trendy (saw the Queer Eye cast there a few years back) and one of my favorites is NAHM, the thai restaurant in the Halkin hotel; it is a pricey, Michelin star restaurant, but they had a set lunch that wasn't too $$$. And when you run out of pounds, the sandwiches from Pret a Manger and Boots (the drugstore or as they say 'chemist') are actually fresh and tasty!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks, mate.


DC Day: Taking the day off to get together with an old friend from college and do the "tourist thing" in DC.

Any suggestions of spots to check out? It's one of these times of just enjoying ourselves rather than doing the standby Smithsonian/Monuments for family from out of town.

Nancy Trejos: Some of my favorite things to do are taking a stroll through Georgetown (and if it's nice, having a cocktail on the waterfront). I know you don't want to do the Smithsonian, but why not check out the National Portrait Gallery or the Phillips Collection? The National Arboretum is also beautiful. If you want to be more physically active, take a bike ride or walk through Rock Creek Park. And end your day with happy hour somewhere in Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan. I hope the weather gets better!

Zofia Smardz: You don't mention when this day off is, but if it's open, I'd go to Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown to check out the arrival of spring in the gardens there. It can be breathtaking. I also love Tudor Place in Georgetown and the Octagon House and the Decatur House if you're into historic homes at all.


Seattle and Vancouver:

There are a lot of things you can do in both's a matter of your interests.

Seattle now has a light rail line you can take from the airport to downtown. With Seattle think of 3rd and 4th and Pine and Pike streets as the center of the action. There is the aquarium, the art museum, there are a ton of other museums.

With Vancouver, around the convention center is the heart of downtown.

Both have places you can take a boat onto the water or explore some other points via ferry or float plane.

The weather at the end of April would be in the 60s with a 50/50 shot of rain or dry weather.

The train from Seattle to Vancouver runs twice during the day either early in the AM or in the evening...the other ways are by bus (unless you were planning on flying)

Becky Krystal: Thanks!


Amtrak: My only Amtrak experience was a trip to NYC. Thought we would rather relax on the train than drive. I think the conductor might have made a wrong turn on the way north. Sometime after Baltimore, the train stopped, switched into reverse, and headed backwards at 5-10mph for about 1/2 an hour. Kind of aggravating, but in NJ, a young woman who had just had a boob job sat down next to me and proceeded to call ALL of her friends to tell them about her new breasts, the procedure, the recovery process, and her emotional response to the experience. So that kind of made up for the inconvenience of the wrong turn.

Becky Krystal: A wrong turn? Yikes!

Andrea Sachs: A play-by-play of her augmentation, DDD yikes!


Pet friendly: When I was moving to DC from the Midwest, I had my two cats with me. They aren't necessarily always well-behaved, but I had them on medication to make the trip less painful for them and me, so they were good.

I did research beforehand and found a few motels near the half-way point that accepted pets, so that worked. But I got in a day early (miscalculated) and so had to find another motel. Nowhere in Hagerstown (where we stopped) was pet-friendly, so I had to sneak in both cats, plus some food and dishes, a litter box and extra litter. For the most part, I slipped things in the pillowcases and hid it to my side (away from hotel staff). So sneaky! :) It worked, but I was a nervous wreck all night, worried the cats would make noise!

Becky Krystal: That was rather bold.


Doggie, stay: I'm really allergic. Yes, I know people with pets believe that as long as the carpet's been vaccuumed I can't possibly have my eyes swell shut, but they do. DON'T sneak your dog into a hotel. And shame on you for suggesting it's not so bad. Do you encourage smokers to go ahead and smoke in the room and try to avoid the penalties? If you don't like the rules, don't saty in that hotel, but no more pet-vigilanties (like the woman sitting next to me who somehow snuck her cat onto a plane in her knitting - I shudder to think how she got it through security!!)

Joe Yonan: I have never snuck my pooch in anywhere (see 92 pounds, above), and never would even if I could. Allergies are serious, indeed. At one Kimpton I stayed in that I mentioned in another response, they designated an entire floor as the pet floor, which seems smart to me for just this reason. Speaking of allergies, I recently stayed in a designated "Pure" room at a Sheraton. Have you heard of these? A tiny extra fee and it was supposedly extra hypo-allergenic. Smelled great, that's for sure. (I didn't have Mister Red on this trip, obviously.)


Suburbs: We used to take Amtrak to NYC a lot. It was easy because we'd be at Penn Station, and could take the subway anywhere.

However, there was a period of time that my husband would leave before or after us since he had meetings there or here. He would take the Acela Express, and break down. Not to mention if there are weather issues further south preventing the regular Acela trains from getting to New Carrollton.

This is a big secret: Now when we go to NYC we drive to one of the NJ transit stations, and take a commuter train into the city. It's a much shorter ride, a lot cheaper and I think it's easier when traveling with the kids. (I don't worry about them disturbing other passengers.)

For some reason I don't think we've needed to pay for the kids' tickets either. (If you time it right, you won't have to pay to garage park your car.)

Andrea Sachs: Excellent train tip. Thanks!


Arlington, VA: re: London restaurants

OXO Tower has great food and a view of the City. Walking distance to the National Theatre if you're going to a play there (also highly recommended).

Zofia Smardz: Thanks!


Are we screwed?: We're flying British Airways to Italy on March 30th. How will the strike impact our flight?

Christopher Elliott: Maybe. According to British Airways, the union is striking on March 30. You can get details on the airline's site. There's a pretty good chance, though it's by no means certain, that the strike will be settled by then.


Crystal City: Happy Monday, Crew! Could you or the chatters recommend places that might be able to repair my hikers backpack? I just need to reattach lining to the canvas -- I'm pretty sure its salvageable. Any ideas? My regular tailor wouldn't do it, so I have no clue as to where to take it.

Becky Krystal: I'm thinking maybe a shop that specializes in luggage repair. Anyone have a recommendation?


Silver Spring, MD: I'd like recommendations for a fun family of four Spring break getaway that's within a 3 hr. drive of DC and costs less than $400. My kids are 7 and 5 so there has to be kid-friendly activities. Could be a day trip or a multiday adventure. Any recommendations?

Zofia Smardz: What about Lancaster Co., Pa., and Hershey Park?


British Airways strike: Any word on whether this will be resolved quickly? We're flying BA at the end of the month.

Christopher Elliott: I spoke with quite a few experts for last Sunday's column, and they told me there was a reasonably good chance this strike would be settled soon. But you never know.


Arlington, VA: My family is planning to take trip this May to places in Canada from New York and would like to do it by train. Will travelling by train work out more expensive than flying? We are thinking of Toronto, Montreal and perhaps Quebec. Need advice. Thanks as always.

Andrea Sachs: I would fly to Toronto, then take VIA Rail for your domestic travel. You can even get a pass, such as the Corridorpass (adult and kid rates) for easier, more economical travel.


Quiet means quiet: OK, maybe the conductor shouldn't have yelled (even if it was a second infraction), but as someone who occasionally chooses the quiet car for good reason, I appreciate the enforcement. First, even quiet talking is still audible, and second, people often aren't as quiet as they -think- they are. I got stuck near some of those people on a late evening train when I wanted to sleep, and I was grateful when the conductor (eventually) told them to shut it (my words, not his).

Andrea Sachs: I agree that talking in the Quiet Car should be at baby nursery volume, but sometimes you need to stretch your vocal chords. Maybe that's what the Cafe Car is for.


Arlington, VA: another London restaurant recommendation:

Wagamama has several locations. Good Japanese noodle soup for a reasonable price. Sit down on a bench at a long table, order, get your bowl and slurp away with everyone else.

Becky Krystal: Eat up, London traveler!


Pet under the seat costs: On United: One way is $125 per pet, $250 r/t. My last ticket to CA to see my family was $245 round trip.

Mexico flights are $175 each way per pet.

And they don't earn frequent flyer miles!

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the pet rates.


Amtrak: I commuted on Amtrak daily for six months from DC to another city on the NE corridor. I had a great experience. Although it made for long days it allowed me to be home with family every evening and given the hassles at airports was a lot easier (and shorter) than flying.

Becky Krystal: You and Joe Biden!


Puerto Rico with Toddler: Is Puerto Rico family friendly? We have a toddler and we are thinking of making a trip late April. Any tips/suggestions for hotels/activities and dining? FYI, we are vegetarian. Thanks.

Nancy Trejos: Yes, it is. I stayed at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, which has a private beach, pools and lovely restaurants. Kids under 5 eat for free, and kids under 12 get a Kids' Welcome Basket. The hotel also organizes activities for children and has a Kidz Paradise center with games and other play equipment. The Ritz Carlton San Juan Spa and Casino also has activities for children as well as nanny service, special meals and personnel to teach swimming. The Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino also has a family package. As for activities, there's a children's museum on the island and a zoo at the Luis A. Ferre Science Park. And you and your toddler can enjoy any number of beautiful beaches. Try going to Vieques.


Fixing a backpack: Unfortunately, I don't have a direct answer, but when I had a similar problem, I checked the website of the manufacturer and they had info on how to go about getting repairs.

Andrea Sachs: Great advice. Thanks. Another idea: Check with REI or another big outdoor retailer. They might have someone in their Rolodex.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I don't know the conductor's name, yet there is an excellent conductor on one of the Keystone Amtrak routes between Harrisburg and New York. He calls out the stations in a happy positive manner and usually has some funny joke to throw in. I wish Amtrak could duplicate more conductors like him. Sorry I never asked his name, but maybe some other readers know more about him.

Andrea Sachs: Keystone Conductor, if you are reading this, you've got a fan in Harrisburg.


Shepherd Park, DC: I hope you can help with a family dilemma. My dad wants to get everyone in the family together, preferably as a surprise for my mom, but we are spread all over - my brother is in R.I., my sister is in the Philadelphia area, I'm here in DC, and my parents are in the New Haven area. Since my parents are in their 80's, Dad is feeling some urgency about this. He was trying to get us together at brother's house for a cookout, but that's a long way to go for a burger and a beer. Sister and I discussed getting together at a resort hotel, or even Disney World, so we can spend a bit more time together and nobody has to cook or clean. Any ideas on where we could meet up?

Zofia Smardz: Afraid I don't see the problem with your father's suggestion here. I don't think getting the family together at your brother's is too far to go for "a burger and a beer." Obviously, it would be much more than that, something that would mean a lot to your parents, and if your brother's willing, I'd get up and go. But if you'd rather spend money on a hotel, you're all within striking distance of New York City. Or -- and you don't say how much you're willing to spend, so I'm flying blind here -- you could book a weekend for everybody at some resort like the Balsams in upstate New Hampshire, or the Red Lion Inn in western Mass., or even the Greenbrier in W. Va. and all convene there.

But I'm sure the chatters will have better ideas, so I welcome their thoughts!


Pet Sneaking: PLEASE do not sneak in your pet! My understanding is that some of the charge you have to pay is to clean the room so that people like me and my husband, who have pet allergies, will be able to breathe easily when we stay in that room after you've been there. I understand that you hate the charges, but I hate not being able to breathe in the hotel room I'm paying for!

Becky Krystal: Another reasonable side to the pet-fee debate.


Washington, DC: Hello! I see your query in the intro asking about Amtrak experiences. A couple of years ago I took Amtrak round-trip from DC to Charlottesville. They have lots of trains on that route, at reasonable times, so I thought it would be nice to try instead of the stressful drive. It was about the same prices as renting a car.

The trip down was delightful. The only issue was that when I arrived in Charlottesville I was disoriented. I had printed maps showing that the station was in the center of town, but from the parking lot, in the dark, it looked like the outskirts and I was a bit freaked out. I would suggest they add pedestrian orientation maps outside all of their stations.

The trip back to DC was a nightmare. The train was something like 6 hours late arriving in Charlottesville to pick passengers up for the trip! They kept updating the screens saying that it will be delayed another hour, another 30 minutes, another hour, so I couldn't go far from the train station. The station was tiny and had a bar/restaurant upstairs, but was not the type of place I would normally spend a long span of time hanging out.

That whole experience soured me on Amtrak and I haven't taken it since. I am actually really reluctant to try taking it after being stranded for such a long time in Charlottesville.

Other passengers said that that happens quite a lot on the route from there North to DC, because the Amtrak train on that line comes from really far away, and therefore has many opportunities for delay. If they really can't provide the service that they sell, they shouldn't be selling it! I love train travel but can't risk that again.

Becky Krystal: I will say that there are worse places to be stranded than Charlottesville. But still, bummer.


Boston to Hilton Head in April: Going to Hilton Head with two 17-year-old girls in April. We don't golf. Anything to keep them amused if it rains or they get tired of the pool?

Nancy Trejos: You can climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse. There's a museum at the bottom. The Coastal Discovery Museum has some good displays. There are many art galleries such as the Hilton Head Art League gallery and the Smith Galleries. At Art Cafe, you can paint ceramics. At Artware Bead Bar, you can take classes and make beaded jewelry. Or you can always take them to any of the movie theaters. But I hope you don't get any rainy days!


Amtrak: When I was about 10 my parents thought it would be a good idea to take me and my 2 younger sisters on a train ride from Whitefish, MT to Chicago, IL so we could see the country on the way to visit our grandparents. The first evening, as we were going through the Dakotas, the train suddenly lurched and came to a sudden stop. My father asked one of the employees coming through if we'd derailed. No, he told us. We just hit "another damn cow, and now we have to scrape him off the tracks before we can move along." That night in the dining car, my father told us we were lucky the train had hit the cow so we could have nice fresh hamburgers for dinner. Good thing we were all Montana girls, so his comment didn't even faze us!

Becky Krystal: Ha!

Andrea Sachs: FYI: They now serve veggie burgers on the train. Maybe it's all of those carrots that keep wandering onto the track.


Amtrak experience: In the late 1990s, while living in Salt Lake City, I had to go to Laramie, WY, on business. As the interstate between SLC and Laramie was constantly under construction, I decided to take the train. We left SLC around 7:00 a.m. and arrived relatively on time in Laramie about eight hours later. The return was different. The train had left one of its destinations very late and so lost its rail time to the freight companies that own the tracks. I spent about 10 hours in the little depot in Laramie, the only passenger awaiting the train, and got to know the station master pretty well. Amtrak treated me to lunch and then to dinner and just when it looked like breakfast might have to be in the offing also, the train arrived around midnight, and I returned to SLC around 8:00 a.m. Perhaps there is no wonder that Amtrak no longer serves Wyoming.

Becky Krystal: Sounds like quite a trip.


carless travel: If you are willing to taking a cab ride to/from the airport to your hotel (or other shuttle services) there are a few other cities:

San Fransico, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Baltimore, Nashville, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

Becky Krystal: All good ideas, thanks.


Switzerland: Hi Flight Crew. Thanks for taking my question. My husband and I are planning a trip at the end of April to pick up a new car in Munich!! We are planning to drive the car around for about a week. Our first stop is Erlangen where some friends live. We then want to head to Switzerland for about 5 days. We are thinking stopping in Zurich, the Bernese Oberland region (thinking of Gimmelwald), and one more spot. What do you think? Any other recommendations? We want to try to incorporate into our trip city, mountains and small villages. Oh and a lot of hiking! Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: I love Montreux. Right on Lake Geneva, just gorgeous -- Chillon with the famous chateau is not far away.

But Basel, in the opposite direction is also very beautiful. Still I think I'd go for Montreux. Chatters, what do you think?


Arlington, VA: My husband and I are going in July to Vancouver - we want to extend our trip and explore the great outdoors- we love hiking. Any suggestions on places to go that are within a reasonable drive and to stay? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Before the Olympics, we had a series of stories on things to do in and around Vancouver. A few options: the Osoyoos reservation, Okanagan region and some bald-eagle watching.


NYC and Theatre: Are the sites that offer theatre packages in NYC worth it? i.e. Are the hotel room rates cheaper and do they offer a break on ticket prices?

Andrea Sachs: It all depends on the deal. Best to do some quick research and see what the rate and tickets cost a la carte. But in many case, you could very well have a great deal. Check the city's tourism Web site for deals.


$100 night for pets?: What hotels are you picking with that rate? I have paid $50 per stay, or $25 per night, or $10 per night, etc. My dog has been to several dozen hotels and we have never even seen a pet fee that high. Perhaps the poster needs to realize that pet-friendly hotels, for the most part, are on the less-luxurious side. Some of the really high-end places will welcome small dogs, but Fido and I are happy with Holiday Inns, Deltas (Canada), and privately owned smaller hotels or B&Bs. is my web site of choice, but I always supplement that with a few google searches. Now, if only priceline would allow us to pick a dog-friendly hotel, we would not need to have the kennel on standby!

Becky Krystal: A reminder to shop around.


London Chewing: Eat at Indian restaurants - almost all of them are good, and they're infinitely better than British cuisine. If you need a quick meal, Pret a Manger is great.

Particularly avoid Mexican restaurants - Wahaca was a hot new eatery last year, and it wasn't any good. I still think that a Chipotle based in London would make several billion dollars.

Becky Krystal: Mmmm, curry.

Joe Yonan: I'm not allowed to talk about food, or I would tell you about my favorite Indian restaurants in London. Sigh.


Arlington, VA: For the person looking for fares to Athens: We bought tickets to Athens for less than 700 dollars last October. We flew British Airways and had a few hours stopover at Heathrow, but it worked out fine.

Carol Sottili: Thanks.


McLean, VA: Missed last week's chat, and after reading the transcript, was sorry that I did because the topics were right up my alley!

For the person contemplating a Spain/Portugal trip: Portugal is amazing and not to be missed. In particular, it is an insanely gorgeous drive from Spain: we drove from Madrid to Lisboa. Once you're in Portugal: Lisboa is incredible, as is Evora. And there are lots of lovely villages scattered throughout the country (with cheap cottage rentals). All of the coast is amazing, but be forewarned that the water is cold year-round.

For the person seeking crystal clear waters: as a native of the USVI, and a well-seasoned traveler, I can say that the USVI and BVI have unsurpassed beaches. You will not find water that gorgeous anywhere else in the world. Stay in St. Thomas and use that as a jumping-off point to visit Tortola and Jost Van Dyke (BVI) and be sure to snorkel in St. John. All are short ferry rides away. The only time the water is even remotely murky is if a hurricane is brewing, and even then, it's still better than 99% of the world's beaches.

For the four-time London visitor: take a train out of London and visit some of the nearby cities. There are some great destinations only an hour or two away (Winchester is a personal favorite!)

Best camera EVER: Canon PowerShot SD1000. I had my camera for three years, and never had a complaint with it, except for the fact that I recently lost it!!! Sad day.

Whew, that was a lot! Hope this helped.

Becky Krystal: Thanks so much for all of this! Per your recommendation on the BVI, I'll provide a useful link to our recent story on Tortola.


Alexandria, VA: We are thinking of retiring to the northern neck of virginia. We plan to do traveling for 2-4 months at a time, closing up the house. how would you manage getting to/from Dulles or BWI from a remote country location like that? I know of no way to safely leave our car for that long anywhere near an airport.

Carol Sottili: If you can get to Fredericksburg, you can take the VRE to Washington (Reagan National) or the VRE/MARC Train to BWI. There is no mass transit from the Northern Neck to Fredericksburg, but there are some private transportation companies. I don't know if there is a car rental place anywhere in the Northern Neck, but, if so, you could look into doing a one-way car rental. Or make some good friends.


Portland, OR.: Can any of the readers familiar with Harrisburg help us. Why is it so hard to get a cab in this town? You wait an hour at the airport for one to show up, and downtown I am surprised at how people steal your cab and think nothing of it. I have never seen such disorganization and rudeness in any other city.

Andrea Sachs: Harrisburgites, any insights into the taxi situation?


Sneaking the pet: For those of us with allergies to animal fur, we'd really appreciate it if you didn't skip letting the hotel know. Many hotels take extra time in cleaning the hotel room if they know there has been an animal in the room. It takes longer to clean, therefore could requires extra staff, therefore they charge a fee. THanks!

Joe Yonan: Your message(s) has(have) been received, loud and clear.


AMTRAK trip: I took Amtrak from North Carolina to Connecticut and back (too late to book a cheap flight). The good part: I loved passing through the countryside and looking out the window or reading my book, and it was cheaper than air fare. Downside: It was slower and bumpier than expected. Plus, to make the 6:30 am departure from Penn Station, I had to stay over in NYC the night before (no Metro trains would have gotten me there in time that morning). A bigger downside: Staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania (for convenient location), touted as renovated but not (a step above Motel 6), which was filled with Madison Square Garden revelers, most of whom partied all night across from my room. But another upside: I got to spend some time with a friend, and we scored last-minute tickets to a sold-out SALOME at the Met. So I'd do it again--and still fantasize about a cross- Canada train trip someday.

Becky Krystal: I second you on the Canada rail trip.


Bethesda, MD: I took the train from DC to Williamsburg, VA for my wedding 2 and 1/2 years ago. I went down mid-week, a few days before my husband, and didn't want to deal with driving two cars back. I loved taking the train when I lived in England, so it seemed like a perfect solution.

After a hellish final few days at work, it was such a relief to not fight traffic. I got breakfast from McDonald's at Union Sation (which is actually a treat for me), used my wireless air card to deal with a few final tasks at work, listened to the Beatles and dozed for an hour or so. By the time my mom picked me up at the station I was happy and relaxed.

Becky Krystal: Way to avoid traffic on I-95. It can be really brutal heading south toward Richmond.


Pittsburgh: When visiting California's Central Valley without a car, Amtrak is really the best way to travel between cities by public transportation. Far more inexpensive, and with more frequent service, than flying.

Nancy Trejos: Good to know. Thanks!


Laurel, MD: My husband and I will be celebrating our third anniversary in late April. Do you have any ideas of a nice B&B town where we could hike or walk within a few hours drive of the area? We don't need anything too fancy, but have no idea where to start.

Becky Krystal: How about Scottsville, Va.? Cute town near the river, with plenty of good hiking and river activities in the area. My recommended place to stay would be the High Meadows Vineyard Inn, where I had a great anniversary weekend. Had another good one at the Lake Pointe Inn at Deep Creek Lake in scenic Garrett County, Md.


Puerta Vallarta: A friend and I are going to Puerta Vallarta for a few days next week (M-Th). We both have been to PV several times, but not recently...Any suggestions for great restaurants/atmospheric happy hours/art museums/artisan shops/things to do in general? We're mature in age (late 50s/early 60s), but young at heart. Thank you.

Andrea Sachs: I have not been there since I was young and thought Spring Breakers were so old and cool. Any recent PV-goers who can give us some 21st-century tips?


Train Experience: I did have an interesting experience on a train. My family, husband, two small children, and myself, were traveling from Washington, DC to Hartford. I had done this before; this time we apparently were not paying attention to something!

We did not know that the back few cars were separated from the train before it headed away from the coast to head north to Hartford. We suddenly found that we were sitting in a station on a train that was heading to Providence. You know: "Last chance to get off the train before it heads..."

We got off the train with kids and luggage and made our way to the ticket counter to find out when we could get on a train heading to Hartford. It was a long time before we got to my parents in Manchester that night!

Andrea Sachs: Funny!


Chicago : I'm off to New York for Easter weekend! Yeah! My return flight, however, is on a regional jet. My question - should I spend $50 + the 15,000 mile balance in my mileage plus account to upgrade to first class? I've flown international business class several times before, and that is definitely worth the upgrade for a 12 hour flight (plus a shower when you land.) What amenities should I expect on a domestic flight from United Express? I'll be checking in online and carrying a small duffel, so I won't benefit from the check-in or free baggage. I heard the United lounge at LaGuarida is OUTSIDE security, so I still have to get to the gate early. Will they have food and drink on the plane? It don't know if it will be worth it, just to have the ability to stretch my legs.

Joe Yonan: I'd save those miles for when you have longer to fly; that's when the upgrade would make a difference...


NW DC: What are the restrictions regarding handbags on airplanes? I know for women, carry on luggage must meet a certain criteria, and you're allowed to bring a purse, but is there a restriction on that? I have a pretty big purse that I'd like to use to carry some books for the plane trip, but I'm worried that TSA will consider it a piece of carry on luggage rather than what it is - a purse.

Andrea Sachs: Airlines don't provide measurements for purses like they do for carry-on luggage. It's really just common sense. If you can carry a pony in it, likely it's too large.


Georgetown. DC: After spending a sunny week in Ireland in early March, Murphy's Law came in to full effect and we flew back in to the big east coast storm. Our flight from Newark to Dulles was delayed repeatedly, and then cancelled AFTER they had announced we were moments from boarding. Awesome. Continental was unable to get us on another flight until the next afternoon but could get us tickets on the 7am Amtrak train to Union Station. The train was clean, quiet and on-time while flights were still being delayed by the bad weather. I'm a fan!

Becky Krystal: Glad that worked out for you.


Hats: I have a travel hat with a straw brim and a cotton crown--it's very packable (label reads "Scala) and looks reasonably chic.

Becky Krystal: Hats off to ya.


Thailand: I have a chance to have a two day layover in Thailand (Bangkok) on my way to elsewhere. Is it worth it? Honestly I'd want to spend two days on a beach in Thailand as opposed to the city. Is that enough time?

Andrea Sachs: Bangkok is insane, in a good way. I would definitely layover there: You can take a boat ride on the river; visit the Night Market; tour temples, including the Emerald Buddha; dare yourself to eat street food; and shop like you've never shopped before.


Amtrak: My fave train and Amtrak story - 25 years ago our family was taking train back to Milwaukee from Toronto. Dad insisted on getting off in Kalamazoo MI to buy a newspaper. Mom warned him train didn't stop there long enough. He didn't listen - and train left w/o him. He ended up taking bus (conveniently in same bldg as train station) back to WI. He had plenty of time to read the paper...

Becky Krystal: Oh, that is too funny.


Rosslyn, VA: I've used this guy for luggage repair. Did a great job.

Sam Torrey Shoe Service - 703-532-4933. 5267 Lee Hwy, Arlington, VA.

Andrea Sachs: Wow, now that's service. Thanks!


G'burg reader: I'm with the person who complained about all the food coverage. That's what I spend the least amount of money on when I travel -- I'm more interested in the cultural aspects of a place.

Zofia Smardz: We hear you!


Thumbs up Amtrak!: I've been doing a long distance (DC/NY) relationship for 4 years, and don't think it would be possible without Amtrak.

Considering how many trips I've taken, I've had only 1 major problem (engine died). And with the Amtrak points system, I've gotten TONS of free trips, too. Love them!

Becky Krystal: Gotta love free trips.


Cruise help: I'm taking a cruise in 2 weeks to the Bahama's and Grand Turks. Really looking forward to it.

It's going to be on Regent cruise line but the dress code calls for busines casual. I'm assuming that means casual for dinners and not for walking around the ship? Shorts/Tanks/Swimsuites/Flip flops are fine for the day walking on the decks?

Carol Sottili: Yes, as long as you put a cover over the swimsuit when you walk between the pool and your cabin.


Caribbean speaking English: Yes! Get thee to Barbados immediately! My Dad lives there (he's an American ex-pat) and we've been five times. It's a fantastic island - beautiful beaches, very friendly locals, a huge contingent of Canadians, Americans and British, great food (flying fish... mmmmm) and definitely check out Round House - they have the best maccaroni pie! The Crane is definitely beautiful, but if you can't afford to stay there, there are many nice small hotels on the island. Also, be sure and check out Harrison's Cave. It's a whole developed cave system in the middle of the island and is really neat. I could go on and on... Additionally, flights from DC have been reasonable lately (around $350 - $400). You can fly through JFK or MIA - we prefer the later b/c flying through JFK means a VERY long flight to Barbados.

Becky Krystal: Thanks for this.


Arlington, VA: final recommendations for the first-time London traveler/foodie --

London's known for its Indian restaurants. They're all over the place and they're all good.

If you want the sushi-by-conveyor-belt experience, go to one of the many Yo! Sushi restuarants.

For a reasonably-priced healthy lunch, there's Pret-A-Manger. Sandwiches and salads made fresh that morning. Londoners love their sandwiches.

Fish and chips... how can you go to London without having it at least once? Ask a cabbie or your hotel concierge/desk person for somewhere good close to where you're staying.

And, if you want to make your own picnic, go to the Harrods food halls, drool over all the displays, pick out what you like, and then go munch on lunch in Hyde Park (and remember that Sundays are when to go to Speakers Corner for the soapbox philosophers).

Becky Krystal: More food options in London...

Andrea Sachs: Cheers!


For the San Diego Traveler....: Recommend Hotel Solamar in the Gaslamp District. Cute boutique hotel that's part of the Kimpton Hotel chain. Clean, upscale, and there's nothing the concierge won't do for you!

Carol Sottili: And Kimpton offers frequent room discounts.


Washington, DC: My favorite Amtrak experience was last fall taking the 3am train back to DC after watching the Yankees beat the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series! The train was about 75% full, so many Phillies fans got stuck next to Yankees fans (luckily no fights broke out).

The only bad part of the trip were the two law students Loudly quizzing each other on Con Law at 3am!

Andrea Sachs: Good that you did not say anything. They might have sued you for infringement of free speech.


Arlington, VA: re: car-less vacations

Atlanta's another good city. MARTA runs from the airport to downtown, and most of the sightseeing is walkable or a subway stop or two away.

Becky Krystal: A vote for Atlanta.


DC sites: Make sure you go to the Cathedral (great views from the tower) and I love the Library of Congress - most beautiful building in DC, I think.

Nancy Trejos: How could I have missed those! Thanks for sharing.

Zofia Smardz: Good tips, thanks!


20017: Help! I have an 11 hour layover in Paris CGD. Do I have time to get into town and hang around for 3 or 4 hours? If yes, what should I do?

Nancy Trejos: That seems like enough time to explore a little. In that short amount of time, I would hit the top spots: go to the Louvre, walk along the Seine River, go see the Notre Dame Cathedral, at least take a look at the Eiffel Tower. But really, my favorite thing to do in Paris is to enjoy the cafe culture. I would sit outside at a cafe sipping coffee or wine and do some people-watching. It's a wonderful city. I wish I could go back!


Washington DC: My great Amtrak experience was taking the Vermonter up to Vermont in the fall a couple of years ago. It's a 12-hour trip, but it was very pleasant, especially since we can walk to Union Station. We bought two business-class seats - for only around $30 extra - which have lots of leg room, so our 10-month-old baby had a space to sit and play. It was peak leaf season in Vermont, and going up by train allowed us to see the leaves change as we went. The scenery is beautiful, especially north of New York. For the last few hours, in northern Massachusetts and Vermont, the tracks mostly along rivers, and you periodically see covered bridges as the sun sets.

Becky Krystal: Very nice.


AMTRAK: My husband is a rail fan, but when we took Amtrak from Chicago to PA, the train ran out of food. Not cool. Tested his fidelity.

We did a trip on Amtrak from Chicago to New Mexico and had a wonderful trip. Soooo much better than flying.

Andrea Sachs: That's why I always pack snacks. Remember, kids . . .


for the swiss travelers: Berne, the capital is a beautiful city too!

Nancy Trejos: Thanks!


Harrisburg, Pa.: To Portland: The problem with cabs, and I don't know all the details, is the powers to be suspended the right of all but one company to service the airport. The one company that serves the airport also holds a contract that it service senior citizens, which I understand takes priority over serving the airport. So, there are cabs, they just may not be at the airport.

Andrea Sachs: Thanks for the insight.


Harrisburg, PA : Taxi service here is uniformly awful and there are no airport shuttle companies, either. I don't really understand why this is the case, but it is. A decent taxi company would make a fortune here!

Andrea Sachs: Hmm, anyone want to start a cab company? I have a clean driving record.


RJ first class: On United you get some pretzel/nut snack mix (several packets though!) and free cocktails. It's SO not worth 15,000 miles. If it's free to you, it's nice, but otherwise not worth it.

Andrea Sachs: Unless you can't find snack mix in your own local store, of course.


ISO hotel in Chicago NW suburbs: I lived in the Chicago NW suburbs for 16 years, and am returning for a visit in April. We'd like to stay somewhere in the NW suburbs (preferably Palatine), but I never, ever paid attention to the hotels there. Is there a good website where I can find hotels? (Usually in our travels we stay with friends and family so I'm not used to looking for hotels. We're staying in a hotel this time because we now have a baby and it's just easier with all the stuff.)

Thanks much; I enjoy the chats.

Nancy Trejos: I like, and Love Chicago. Enjoy!


Street food risks: Re previous chat's discussion on food bought from street vendors: Checked with my husband the microbiologist, who assures me that some food poisoning can occur WITHIN A COUPLE HOURS of eating the tainted food. Depends on the specific micro-organism.

Andrea Sachs: Good lesson: Never stray too far from a restroom.


re: Food and Drink articles: One of the greatest joys in life is discovering and enjoying new food and drink! Keep up the good work!

Zofia Smardz: A supporter! Thanks!


Columbia, MD: Charleston is HOT. Years ago I was living in Panama, and flew into Charleston for some R&R in July. The effect of the heat/humidity was such that the second day there I got my first-ever short haircut, and was constantly stopping at 7-11s the entire week for a icee. And I was coming from a tropical jungle--Charleston in July nearly did me in. But it was beautiful.

Zofia Smardz: Sounds positively wilting!

Andrea Sachs: Get thee to a cocktail and a shaded porch as soon as possible.


France/Italy: Going to Lyon France & Turin Italy in May. Do any travel chatters have any not to miss restaurants/things to do?

Love the chats!!

Nancy Trejos: I can help you on the Lyon part, as I've been there. Plus, one of my best friends and neighbors lived there for years. I just asked her for some restaurant recommendations. Brasserie Georges and La Mere Brazier are classics. The fanciest plaes are Villa Florentine (has beautiful view) and Bocuse, a 3 star restaurant outside of the city. If you want the typical traditonal Lyon restaurant experience, go to Le Merciere or l'Amphytrion (where I had one of the best meals of my life. Try the poulty liver cake with fresh tomato sauce) Go to the Basilique Notre-Dame and the Cathedrale St. Jean, the Parc de la Tete d'Or for its famous rose garden, and the Fine Arts Museum. Anyone have Turin suggestions?


Arlington, VA: Amtrak... My friends joke that Customer Service has put me on the banned list. I was on 2 trains IN A ROW that people "jumped" in front of. Gross... 3 1/2-4 hour waits both times while they did an investigation and cleaned the train up. I cross my fingers everytime I get on a train now. Amtak made it as easy as possible for us, gave us periodic updates and even made all the food and drinks free!

Andrea Sachs: How tragic--the first part, of course.


Andrea Sachs: Well, the hour (plus a few minutes) is up, and we really enjoyed fielding your questions and sending out your comments and advice to the InterWorld.

For the winner of the toy train or prize of lesser value:

Can the cow train-tipper please message me your address at We like your pioneer spirit!

Till next week. . . keep those travel dreams alive-- and real.


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