Talk about travel: Your gambling stories, Portland with toddlers, a U.S. road trip, hitting the beach, more

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Flight Crew
Monday, July 19, 2010; 2:00 PM

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Nancy Trejos: Good afternoon, travelers, and welcome to today's flight! Thanks for joining us for another fun hour of travel-related chatter. We hope you were able to stay cool this weekend while reading our stories on the latest West Virginia and Sentosa Island, Singapore, gambling venues. I loved reading about both writers' experiences. It made me think about the time I won $300 playing slots at the Table Mountain Casino near Fresno, California. So I ask: What was your luckiest, unluckiest, or just most interesting gambling experience? Or best or most fascinating gambling venue you've ever visited? The person with the best story hits the jackpot--or at least, gets a nice little prize. Okay, let's chat!

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Recommendations for online travel reading?: I read the Post's Travel section every week, and have devoured the post.com archives, too, and find myself wanting more. Can you recommend a few online travel websites? Sites that have articles, product reviews, travel tips, and other ways to fill my work days?

Becky Krystal: Since we regularly get them in the office, I read the dead-tree versions of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I also subscribe to the RSS feeds for Budget Travel, USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, Frommers and SmarterTravel. That should get you started.Folks, any other favorites?

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Chernobyl: My college-student son just left for a month-long trip around Europe, including Poland and Ukraine, where my grandparents were born. Did you recently have an article about visiting Krakow? Can you link to it? Also, he plans to take a guided tour of the Chernobyl disaster site. I told him he MUST get me a T-shirt that says "Chernobyl", if they actually have a souvenir shop there.

Andrea Caumont: Krakow is Best Savored Slowly

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Prices going in the wrong direction: Hi Travel Gurus - I'm trying to fly from DCA to MSP the w/e of August 1 but unfortunately prices are getting worse by the day. Any tips?? Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: You might consider a last-minute deal from a site such as Priceline or Hotwire. Planes are flying full this summer, so there's no guarantee you'll get a bargain -- but it's worth a try.

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Central or South America in October: Trying to escape from Costa Rica's rains in October. Can fly or bus from San Jose, but have only a week including the travel days. Can you recommend a place to go in Central or South America where it's not so rainy or where we can find things to do inside if it does rain every day? Bocas del Toro has been suggested, but we've done a lot of traveling in Panama, and are looking for other options. Anything you can suggest in Columbia, Ecuador, Nicaragua?

Nancy Trejos: Los Frailes is a beautiful, off the beaten path beach as well. For less beach and more culture, go to Cuenca (where my mom grew up!) or Guayaquil. I've not been to Nicaragua but hear it is quite nice.

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chunnel trip london to paris?: How far is distance; how fast does train travel and how long is trip in subject title?Is food and drinks served?

Zofia Smardz: It's about 307 miles (495 km), the trains can travel up to 186 mph, the trip takes about 2 and a half hours and yes, food and drinks are served in two bar cars (first class, business premier and standard premier fares include a meal).

Christopher Elliott: The tunnel is 31 miles long. Speeds through the Chunnel can vary. When I went, it was s-l-o-w. You can find out more at the Eurostar site.

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London/England: Not a question, but some reactions to two of last week's queries (read too late to reply then): England, for 75th birthday. Has she been there before? Why does she want to go now? Two weeks is not enough, but gives lots of options. Shakespeare sites (Stratford-upon-Avon, Globe Theatre and other south bank locations), Canterbury. Cotswolds. Cornwall. Afternoon tea. etc. etc.) For 4-year-old: double-decker bus, on top of course. Covent Garden. Tate Modern (special materials for kids available at a children's desk when I was there recently), British Museum. Most things you suggested might be better for the 75th birthday mom!

Nancy Trejos: All good suggestions. I love the Tate Modern and Covent Garden. Thanks for writing in.

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Germany and Austria in Sept.: So my husband and I thought we'd take advantage of the better exchange rates and made arrangements to take off the first two weeks in September to tour Germany and Austria. And now we can't find airfare below $1000 each! We planned to fly into Munich and rent a car and make our way slowly to Vienna, hiking and playing tourist in a fairly low key fashion. Do you have any suggestions for 1. Whether to wait for cheaper flights or suck it and buy now? and 2. Must see places?

Zofia Smardz: Yes, airfares are high and likely to stay that way. You can sign up for sale fare alerts on Lufthansa's Web site and other sites such as Kayak or Yapta or Airfarewatchdog, but September is coming up fast. I'm the type who would just go ahead and buy the ticket, but you know yourself best.As to must-see places, of course you must see Neuschwanstein and Berchtesgaden before you leave Munich, then, though it's a little off the direct road to Vienna, I'd head for Garmisch-Partenkirchen just south, a beautiful mountain town that has hosted the winter Olympics, and be sure to check out the beautiful abbey in nearby Ettal, as well as the Wieskirche in Steingarden. Then hit Innsbruck, another stunning mountain town before swinging east to Salzburg, which is a must-stop even though it's usually loaded with tourists. But you can't bypass Mozart's birthplace. Beyond Salzburg, Mondsee -- a town and a lake of the same name -- is gorgeous. I've never stopped in Linz, but it's the third-largest city in Austria, former seat of Frederick III, Hitler's childhood hometown, and bursting with history. Supposedly great arts and music scene, too (the Brucknerhaus concert hall is named for composer Anton Bruckner, born nearby). St. Polten is a nice city, too, but Krems an der Donau, just 30 miles or so from Vienna, is a must for the Gothic church and the river views.Other suggestions, chatters?

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travel USA: Hi, next spring I'm planning to drive through your country with a camper-van, with no limit of time, any ideas about itineraries and roads?.By the way, I'm coming from Italy

Joe Yonan: Coast, then south from Washington state down to southern California, then east along the southern part of the US and back up. If you have time to do even more, you could then go west from DC again and hit the central states and back. This is a vague answer, because your question is so huge, but you get the general idea.

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Road trip: Long time reader, love your stuff!!I have just returned from a 14 day photography road trip (2800 miles) visiting 5 National Parks (Los Angeles to Yellowstone and back, including Zion, Arches, Bryce & Grand Tetons).....as someone who typically likes to lay on a beach for a vacation, I cannot get over how much fun it was to travel and see so many cool little towns, etc. along the way. For those of your readers who have never visited a National Park, go! Beautifuly maintained, easy to get around, clean facilities.....I was blown away.

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Gambling Story: I was stuck in Las Vegas for 2 extra days after a conference and decided to try my luck at the slots rather than try and see a show. I started playing at Bally's under the "Loose Slots" sign and after playing for about an hour I was up a couple hundred bucks. I then switched machines and within 15 minutes, I had hit for $1000. Ever since then, every time I play the slots, at Charles Town, I have won. The last time I won on my first play.

Nancy Trejos: On your first play? You are lucky!

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Cape Cod bound: We're going to the Cape at the end of next week. It's our fourth trip. We've stayed in Brewster, P'Town, and Eastham in the past, and we're staying in Orleans this time. We've driven (and stopped) up and down the Cape, mostly on 6A, with some forays on 28 (Chatham a few times, and down into Falmouth and Woods Hole last trip).First question: Any places "off the beaten path" that we really shouldn't miss?Second question: We've never done the islands. Would you recommend it? If so, which?Things to know about us: We'll be there for a week; we're renting a cottage; we'll have our car; and we'll have two small well-behaved dogs with us. We're foodies and tend to like a mellow, non-action-packed itinerary for our Cape vacations.Thanks!

Joe Yonan: I love the Cape, but I think all those paths are pretty well beaten! One thing I always recommend, though -- and I did last week -- are the fresh-water ponds in Wellfleet and Truro, although you're not supposed to take the pooches there. As for the islands, I like both, but for food, you gotta go to Nantucket, which I say has the best dining on all of the Cape.

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Casinos: Where I live in the Seattle area many people don't realize that you have the highest concentration of casinos outside Vegas and Atlantic City. The reason is because you have the highest concentration of separate native american tribes in the country. Within a 75 mile radius of Seattle you have over a dozen casinos. Three of them are the most prominent with advertizing and they book comedy and older bands(70s and 80s) that are touring. Each about 30 miles away from downtown seattle to the North South and East. They are the Tulalip, Emerald Queen (Puyallup tribe) and Snoqualmie (outdoor concerts). To tie into your article last week ...in the Portland metro area there are no casinos...2 within 2 hrs away are along the coast in Lincoln City and 20 miles inland at Spirit Mountain.

Zofia Smardz: Interesting to know! Thanks for sharing.

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Currency exchange settlement status?: Hi--it has been more than three years since we submitted our detailed paperwork documenting the currency exchange fees we paid on our credit cards while on international travel. Evidently they are now in the appeals stage. Anything new that you can tell us regarding when we could see those settlement checks (hopeful here)? Maybe some lawyers can help us read between the lines, or know the circuit court appeal process?

Christopher Elliott:

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Travel to Turkey: This is a couple of weeks out of date, but to the person thinking about going to Turkey I was able to get tickets for 950 dollars on Contenintal/United/Luft. for a week over the Columbus day holiday.

Nancy Trejos: Rare to find airfare for less than $1,000 to Turkey. Thanks for writing in. Makes me want to go now!

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Travel writing: Hey Flight Crew!I have a friend who loves to travel (nowhere in particular, just loves traveling generally), and I would like to get her a travel-themed gift for helping me out so much recently. What is your favorite gift for use in travel you all have received (/swag sent to the office you found most useful)? If that's something that's more personal/best left to the recipient to figure out, is there a particular store you'd love a gift certificate too? I'd also love to give her a travel-related book, anything ranging from a sort of "50 awesome trips you haven't heard of" to an entertaining travelogue/travel-related memoir--do you all have a particular book you like? If price ranges help, I was thinking up to $75 combined, about $25ish for the book and $50ish for the gift/giftcard.Thanks so much!!

Becky Krystal: Here's our gift guide from last year -- of the things in there, I really love the National Geographic book, "Food Journeys of a Lifetime."Chatters, what great gifts would you like or have already received?

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european train tickets: This might be a nitpick on your coming and going article, but while I agree with the advice to avoid buying tickets from raileurope, I would say that often buying tickets in advance can get you sale fares on European trains, especially if you buy online from the train system's website. I think the Hungarian system may not sell online, but I know the Austrian and German systems do (as do Spain, France, etc.). I've gotten big discounts this way in the past (50-75%).

Zofia Smardz: I believe that was Going Our Way column, not a Coming and Going item, but thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It's always good to hear from the voices of experience.

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Cuban Travel: Can Americans travel to Cuba legally?

Christopher Elliott: Yes. But you need special permission from the US government. Here are details.

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Gambling escape: Craving a quick gambling getaway. The Greenbrier is all booked up for the weekend, and I'm hearing bad things about the new Hollywood Casino in West Virginia. Since I don't feel like flying to Vegas, I fear that leaves me with Atlantic City. Any hotels to recommend? The main players (Trump Taj Mahal, Caesars, Borgata) are quite pricey. Is it really worth it, or better to do a mid-range proximate hotel (Hilton, Tropicana, Wyndham, Showboat)?

Joe Yonan: Did you read our take on the new WVA spots? Our writer indeed found Hollywood pretty disorganized, at least for the time being. He likes the gambling at the Borgata, but you don't have to stay there to gamble. While I see if he has hotel ideas, I'll throw it out to chatters... NJ gamblers, what say you?

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Gambia Gambling: I was in the Gambia at a hotel or restaurant, I forget which, where there was a tiny room set up down a little path, with two unattended slot machines in it. I had lots of fun losing ten bucks. I wonder now if it had to be away from the main building because of disapproval from conservative Muslim guests? Anyway it was the least expected gambling experience I've ever had.

Nancy Trejos: How unexpected! Thanks for writing in!

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why is the date overwriting text?: In so many chats, like today's the repeated date is overwriting the chat questions and answers. why does this happen? Can't you just drop the date (I don't think this happens i the transcripts, just the live chats).

Andrea Caumont: Could you tell me which browser you're using please?

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Luck at the Casino: This happened almost 15years ago so you have to allow for inflation. We were visiting Cape May and drove the 40-ish miles north to Atlantic City. We're not gamblers but can pass some time playing quarter slots while our friends played for big money. Playing side by side, my husband and I both hit it "big" at the same time. Together we won $103. Now, as I said we're not gamblers so we cashed in our quarters for a $100 bill (I knew i would never break it). and three $1 coins. We put all three coins into the machine directly behind the cashier. We won $250.00. Our friends could not believe we didn't ride our streak but we were happy to walk out with $350.00 to spend on another vacation.

Nancy Trejos: AC was my parents' favorite place to gamble! (I grew up in Queens.) Nice to hear an AC story. Thanks!

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Arlington: I'm taking a day trip to Rehoboth Beach this weekend and am really excited to be going to a real beach. I plan on leaving very early Saturday but am not sure what time is the best to leave on Sunday to avoid terrible traffic. Any advice?

Zofia Smardz: You'll probably hit some traffic on Sunday no matter what time you leave, though very early in the a.m. might be best. Or if you can, I'd wait till late afternoon/early evening before heading back. By then, most of the Sunday-Sunday weekly renters will probably have cleared out, as well as most folks staying in hotels, which have 11 a.m. or noon checkout for the most part. Still leaves the daytrippers, but hopefully the traffic will be thinner.Maybe chatters have other ideas, though?

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HSV, AL: Hubby and I are taking our annual vacation w/o child this fall. We decided on Vegas off the strip for a week. The travel agent got us Red Rock Canyon Resort and Spa. We are going Wed to Wed. Yes, we may spend a full day and a couple of nights on the strip, but our main objective is to relax. Do you think this is too long? Do we need a car? I keep reading mixed reviews on TravelAdvisor about the unreliable shuttle service from the resort to the strip/airport. Also, what is up with the $25 entertainment fee? And, what off the beaten path stuff do we need to do sans Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the GC?

Nancy Trejos: A week of relaxing is not too long in my opinion. If you're going to take any side trips, I would suggest renting a car. Aside from Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, I would suggest Mt. Charleston for hiking, Valley of Fire State Park for the sandstone formations, and Death Valley National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is a little farther away but beautiful. Have fun!

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Going for the Jackpot: A couple of years ago, my fiance (then girlfriend) and started off a trip to the Grand Canyon with her family by spending a night in Vegas. Eventhough we landed about 10PM and had to leave by noon, she wanted to try and get a real Vegas experience since it was her first time there. That night, we went out on the strip but didn't really gamble. She said she'd decided that Vegas wasn't really for her, but she was enjoying herself. The next day, I told her I wanted to do a little gambling before we left. I played craps while she watched, but I wanted to get her involved. We start off on the nickel slot machines so she could ease her way in. All of a sudden, I won $100. So then we headed to the quarter slots, and I won another $400. At that point, she was feeling pretty good about having a bit of a slush fund, so we headed to the dollar machines. I was playing and went up and down for a while. She all of a sudden pokes me and asks, "Why is this beeping so much?" I look over and she'd just won $2000! After the casino attendant handed her 20 $100 bills, she was ready to head back to Vegas.

Nancy Trejos: Love that she asked why it was beeping so much! Thanks!

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1800hotels.com bankrupt?: Have you heard about the thousands of people who are arriving at their hotels this week booked through 1800hotels.com to find their reservations cancelled or not paid for? The company's irish website (1800hotels.ie) says they were forced into bankruptcy by their suppliers (posted this morning). Perhaps you could put something out to the public urging them to check with their hotels before departure if they booked through 1800hotels.com?

Christopher Elliott: I wasn't surprised to hear about 1800hotels.com's bankruptcy. I've been getting complaints about its "too good to be true" rates (a customer's words, not mine) and it was not the easiest company to reach. According to its site, it is "working diligently to protect both our customers and our employees." But as a practical matter, a bankrupt company won't pay its bills, so you probably wouldn't have a reservation. Immediately dispute the charge on your credit card and make alternative arrangements.

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Gambling: While on a work trip to Detroit in February, we stayed at the Greektown Casino, where I almost didn't get my casino credit per night (because my boss didn't care). But I did get the credit, and spent only that money at the casinos. I walked out of there with almost $40 (from $20 in credits) -- and it would have been more if I could have figured out how to cash out earlier!

Nancy Trejos: Good for you!

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I do not gamble. I went on a gambling riverboat cruise for the boat ride. People convinced me to play one quarter, just so I could say I gambled. I did, and I won a few bucks and I left the machine after one quarter. A serious player on the machine next to me started cursing me out because he had been there and been losing for a long time and I just played once and won. Well, that is my entire gambling experience, and I am now gladly retired from the sport.

Nancy Trejos: Sorry you had a bad experience!

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Gambling Venues: I don't know how fascinating this story is, but here goes.I went to Monte Carlo with some friends a few years ago. Given the dress code in the casino, we had to be dressed up. I had on a swish evening dress, and the rest were suitably dressed as well (dinner jackets etc). For just a brief moment I felt like we were "cool cats" - think James Bond, etc. Then we sat down at a cafe just outside the casino and my friend (replete in black tie) ordered a sundae. It came out with sparkly streamers on it. My friend whipped out his camera and proceeded to take about 20 pictures of it from all angles. For some reason this hit my funny bone. I cannot see Zsa Zsa Gabor, Peggy Guggenheim, James Bond, or any of those cool suave characters take a few dozen photos of a sundae. So much for the illusion of being too cool for school. Incidentally, we found the fancy part of the casino to be incredibly boring. I think it may have been a Sunday night, but if there were 25 people in the whole place I'd be shocked. Quiet as a church, etc. The slots section (open free for all) was bustling and loud but the other side was thin with people and quiet.

Nancy Trejos: Funny! Thanks!

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oktoberfest...: someone was asking about it - and check your dates, is all i'll say. it usually ends the first week in october...or it used to.

Christopher Elliott: Sept. 18 to Oct. 3. Here are the details.

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Gambling!: Oh, I am the WORST gambler ever. I lose money in slots so fast I'm broke on a casino boat as soon as we hit open water. My mother, however, always breaks even or comes out ahead. So, in trying to beat her, I went to the Hard Rock Casino in Ft. Lauderdale and signed up for their players card to get the $10 offered. And, on that free $10, I scored $100! Not much for the high rollers, but for this loser it was a fortune! I quit right then.

Nancy Trejos: Good for you!

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re: Germany trip: For the chatter going to Germany and Austria, they didn't say whether or not they wanted to fly and depart from Munich or if they were going to depart from Vienna. If the former, I'd suggest a few days in Munich proper, then heading down toward the Garmisch area (Etal, Ludwig's castles, the passion play craziness this year, et cetera), then drive through Mittenwald and into Austria, then start going northeast in Austria, stopping by Innsbruck, then continuing on to St Johann in Tirol and a couple of days hiking around the Pillersee area, then you can duck back into Germany for Berchtesgaden or just continue straight to Salzburg. Then you can do a circle back to Munich if that's where you're departing, or continue on your way toward Vienna.

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New Years Flights: A few friends (ladies in late 20s) are trying to find a cool destination for New Years. First thought was Miami, but flights are over $500. Are all warmer destinations going to be that high for New Years weekend? Any ideas for places that may have flights under $300 out of BWI? Or other ideas within driving distance besides NYC?

Joe Yonan: How bout New Orleans? I see $241 from BWI.

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Metro area day spas: Hi. My boyfriend and I were supposed to go away for a weekend, but we just broke up. So, I'd like to spend a few hours getting pampered at a day spa to mentally get away, but not for so much money that I could have done a whole vacation by myself. I'm looking for a place with a sauna/jacuzzi and fancy showers in the locker room so that I can stretch out the experience. Where would you suggest in DC proper? Alternately, do you know of any places in the hinterland that would be cheaper enough to warrant renting a Zipcar for the day? Many thanks.

Joe Yonan: I had a good mani/pedi at Nusta, and have heard good reports from others who have done more there. But it's a little pricey, indeed. Hmm. Spa-loving chatters, chime in!

Nancy Trejos: Some friends love the Elizabeth ArdenRed Door Day Spa in Chevy Chase, D.C. And a friend loved the Bliss Spa at the new W Hotel.

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USA: In response to last week's question about taking a 4 year old to London, I just returned with my two 4 year olds who had a most enjoyable time. On the list of things not to be missed: watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Castle, taking a cruise to Greenwich and on the way seeing the many bridges that dot the Thames including, and most especially, London Bridge. Also appreciated was a trip to Hyde Park and to the Princess Diana Park (not absolutely sure of the name but it shouldn't be hard to locate).

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Minimoon: Hi,My fiance and I won't be able to afford a full-blown honeymoon after our Summer 2011 wedding, so we were hoping to go somewhere local for a few days to chill after the wedding and then plan a bigger trip for later that year or our first anniversary. Any ideas for a resort-y type place within a couple or three hours' drive of DC? A place where we could either relax all day or do fun activities would be preferable, mountains or beach or anything in between. Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., is beautiful and would certainly meet your criteria of a place where you can relax or be active. Don't know about your budget, though. Or there's the Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford Springs, Pa.Other ideas, folks?

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For the USA traveller with no time limit: I like the suggested loop travel. But to be specific, he should visit as many of our National Parks as he can. Some of the more beautiful scenery on earth. Many have less expensive (compared to privately-owned) but adequately nice campgrounds. You may need reservations though if traveling during the summer, especially on weekends. Or during the fall in New England.

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RE: prices going in the wrong direction: If you don't absolutely have to fly out of DCA, you might keep an eye on BWI. I've had luck getting cheaper flights from there to points west, including MSP.

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Lady luck!: On a fall 2009 trip to Vegas as I was headed up to bed after a somewhat late night, decided to try my luck with the last $20 bill I had in my pocket by depositing it into a slot machine -- on the third play I WON $1,600! Sadly I spent another $200 trying to win the jackpot! I think the $1,400 I came home with made up for all the $$$ I've lost in the last 3 or 4 trips!

Nancy Trejos: Wow. That's nice!

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Air Fares?: Are there any educated guesses on when air fares may, if ever, finally decrease?

Zofia Smardz: Nope, I fear. Like you, we really have no idea.

Christopher Elliott: Some say airfares could drop this fall, and maybe sooner. I just wrote something about falling prices in my other column, which posted a few hours ago. I have a feeling these high prices are unsustainable.

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Casino Hvar: Hvar is a great little Croatian resort island, but there's not a lot to do in the evening, so when visiting in 2002, we hit the casino one night. After a half an hour, we had loss our allotted amount, but it had started to rain. Really, really hard. So we hung out for a while. And a while longer. And a while longer. I did gamble a little more than intended, but we were stuck there about three hours. The next day there was widespread but pretty minor damage around town - washed out hills and such. We later found out that we had been lucky: the same storm had caused major flooding in central Europe, including completely flooding Prague's subway.

Nancy Trejos: Glad you were okay! Thanks for this.

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Favorite Travel Site: One of my favorites is Chris Elliott's site!

Becky Krystal: Of course!

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Vegas: In Vegas for a conference, stopped at a slot machine, put in a dollar coin, hit for $100. Got excited, put in another and hit for a second $100. Two of my companions decided to hand me their money and continue the streak, but naturally it was downhill from there!! Wound up on the minus side, of course. The house always wins.....

Nancy Trejos: Ohhh! Sorry.

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Casino alternatives: I've never been, but for the person looking for casinos other than in WV, don't forget that Pittsburgh now has one too and they just added gaming tables (it's called the Rivers Casino). How do you think they're helping pay for that fancy new hockey arena?

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How to begin planning a trip?: Dear Travel Gurus,I am flummoxed about a trip to Paris that I have been dreaming about for the past few years. The tickets are all set for early Sept, but I cannot, for the life, of me, begin to understand how to plan the rest of it. Can you please tell me how to get started? Tour book? Website? Reading something by Julia Child? Do I have enough time to plan?? I will be there for one week.

Joe Yonan: You've got time to plan, absolutely. I'd start by reading a general guidebook to Paris, and seeing what interests you the most before diving in further. Are you a food lover? Then read Patricia Wells' "Food Lover's Guide to Paris" and websites by David Lebovitz and Clotilde Dusolier. Otherwise, you should read through this Going Our Way entry by KC Summers that included some good possibilities for places to stay, which is something you need to find pronto.

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Travel gift?: If it were me: I covet the new National Parks/Burns book. And for a gift card, REI has great travel stuff.

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where is Block Island?: I thought the Post had done an article on Block Island, including recommendations as to where to stay, but when I looked through the travel section (clicking on the map, then RI), I could not find it. Am I misremembering?

Andrea Caumont: Little Rhody's big secret: Miles of beautiful beaches and more

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USA: Meant to say Buckingham Palace, not Castle and also, Windsor Castle for the 4 year old.

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Overweight bags: My son recently flew to Asia on Delta and his bag was evidently 12 lbs over the 50-lb limit so they charged him $150. Someone recommended that, before he returns, he purchase an inexpensive bag there to divide up his goods since he is allowed 2 bags to check in. I've checked the Delta site but cannot determine if the 50-lb limit is per bag or total luggage. Do you know?

Becky Krystal: You're right, it's a little unclear since "baggage" can be used in the plural or singular sense. My guess would be per bag, but I would try contacting the airline to be sure.

Nancy Trejos: My understanding is that it's per bag. Here's a story I wrote on baggage fees a few months ago.

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Vegas with the Grandmas: Last April, I headed on a family trip to Vegas that had been pushed by my two 84 year old grandmothers. They'd only met each other a year and a half earlier (30 years after my parents got married), but talked about going to Vegas then and kept pushing my parents to make it happen. One grandmother hadn't been in 15 years and the other had never been there. Little did we know that to keep them entertained, we just had to give them $20 and sit them in front of slot machines. One member of the family would stay with them while others went and did table games. Then we'd switch off. I come back from playing a bit of blackjack and see the two of them sitting there sipping on champagne celebrating that they'd each just won $25 on nickel machines. It's the little things in life I guess...

Nancy Trejos: Love this story!

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Gambling Story: My birthday is during the summer, so I was home from college and away from all of my friends for my 21st. To compensate, my parents, the wonderful role models that they are, took me to Atlantic City. I had played poker in the dorms and seen the tournaments on TV, so I always wanted to try it at a real table myself. Well, I did... and I won about $200, first time playing! (I of course, haven't been able to repeat that...)

Nancy Trejos: Fun parents!

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Gaithersburg, MD: I'm planning a trip for this November with two girlfriends, and we're talking about flying into Munich, taking the train down through Salzburg, Venice, and ending up in Naples (where one of the girls has friends we can stay with), before flying out of Rome. Does this sound reasonable for a two week trip, or am I over-thinking it?

Zofia Smardz: I think two weeks will give you plenty of time to do that, spending 2-3 days in each place. Chatters? Agree or disagree?

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Gambling: A decade ago, Rutgers University's Model United Nations club ran a simulation called SKUNC (Scarlet Knight United Nations Conference) in Atlantic City, where organizing staff spent about thirty minutes before we broke for the day outlining how to play blackjack. A fellow student from my school who was underage managed to make it into a casino, won a few times, then finished down - after which casino staff kindly asked him to leave. I remember him complaining that they didn't stop him earlier in the night when he was winning.

Nancy Trejos: Funny. Thanks!

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online travel reading: I confess I find myself reading the fodors.com forums way too much.

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Lady Luck of the Seas...: During college, I went with a friend's family on a caribbean cruise. They were, ahem, far wealthier than I so it was super-fun to stay in the huge suites (bedroom, living room, walk-in closet, balcony, the whole nine yards). So, effectively, I was already REALLY fortunate on that trip.There was, of course, the requisite casino on the ship but, since I was a college student without a lot of disposable income (okay, ANY disposable income) or expertise in gambling, I mostly watched. At one point, my friend convinced me that it would be more fun if we were both playing so he offered to give me $50 to gamble with. I already had loads of guilt (gotta love being Catholic) about how generous his family was in bringing me on the trip to begin with, so I didn't want to take his money. So, after much prodding, I brokered a deal; if I played and won, we'd share the winnings, 50/50. He argued me to 70/30 (for ME to keep the majority) and I begin playing roulette.About an hour a 20 minutes later, I had won $1,700!!!Needless to say, it made an already surreal and wonderful trip even more incredible. And, yes, no need to point it out, I'm a super-lucky girl!

Nancy Trejos: Wow! You were lucky!

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gambling: We were on our way back from Hawaii when that blizzard hit DC in 1996. Apparently our flight was the last they let leave Hawaii (!) and we got stranded in our connecting city-- St. Louis (!) for 3 days without our luggage. The only thing to do was to go to the riverboat casinos (which in those days even had "sailing times" which were the only times you could board, even though the casino never went anywhere). Through the kindness of strangers we learned craps, and ended up making enough money to cover all of our expenses for the three days. (Of course ever since we have lost whenever we play craps...)

Nancy Trejos: Glad you didn't lose money!

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Gaithersburg, MD: A few years back a group of friends and I rented a house outside of Las Vegas. Half the group was coming from the West Coast, and the other group (my group) were flying in from DC. We hit the casinos, and I was prepared to lose money (as you must in Las Vegas), and I did. Unfortunately, the two other guys from DC both seemed to be on hot streaks, because they won their money back, and then some - enough to cover their costs for the trip. I tried very hard not to sulk the whole flight home.

Nancy Trejos: Sorry you weren't the lucky one. Thanks for sharing.

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Rehoboth Beach with a toddler: My family is vacationing at Rehoboth this summer and I am interested in your suggestions on places to dine with a 4 year old who is relatively well behaved at restaurants. Any other "can't miss" things to do with a 4 year old? Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: in the Boardwalk Plaza hotel. But hey, this is the beach! If your 4-year-old is relatively well-behaved, no place is off-limits, really. I'd recommend any of those places. A friend recently recommended Espuma, on Rehoboth Avenue, too.Chatters, your thoughts?

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Portland, Ore., with a toddler: We're spending 3-4 days there in August with our very busy 2-year-old son. We booked a hotel near Powell Books and will not have a car. Any suggestions for neighborhoods, activities, and so on that would be fun to explore?

Joe Yonan: I like the Pearl Arts District. Powell is amazing, and you could spend hours there. Don't miss the Saturday farmers market, with hundreds of vendors in a glorious location. Portland is also a food-truck paradise, so if you're into that, you'll be in heaven. Look for Ziba's Pitas, my favorite.

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Gambling in Hungary: On a trip to Budapest in 2002 I went to the casino for an evening. It was Stunning, right out of James Bond movies, but what I found really interesting was that most of the players were Asian and spoke PERFECT Hungarian. It was so strange to hear that language when looking at the person I expected Chinese, Japanese, Korean or even American but it was perfect Hungarian. Twisted my brain a bit.

Nancy Trejos: Interesting...

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Columbia, MD to OBX: I'm planning to head from Columbia, MD to Corolla, NC on Saturday via 13 (Bridge Tunnel). We took this route last year but didn't leave until 8:00 am and ended up in horrible traffic once we crossed into NC.This year, we're leaving the house at 5:00 am but traveling with toddlers and will need to make frequent stops. Any trouble spots we should look out for? We're hoping to cross into Kitty Hawk by 1:00 in order to miss most of the back-ups. Is this a feasible plan?

Zofia Smardz: Unfortunately, I only ever go to the Outer Banks in the off-season, so can't really help with this. Let's throw it out to the chatters? What say you, folks?

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Getting away from our toddler...: We're looking for a 40th birthday trip in January to someplace warm. Not too far, not too expensive, and someplace active and grown-up enough we wouldn't want to bring our toddler (e.g. Costa Rica, yes; lounging around a resort, no). It doesn't have to be a beach but it does have to take the winter chill off. Moderate adventure and/or history and/or culture are all welcome, but I don't want anything too complicated in terms of planning or logistics.

Nancy Trejos: have the quaint town of Antigua, the lake town of Atitlan and the ruins at Tikal. Belize is also pretty easy to get to and beautiful.

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Paris trip: For the person planning Paris trip: read Thirza Vallois' Around and About Paris, whichever volume covers arrondissements you will spend most time in. Take it w/you if you plan to stroll while you are there, which I highly recommend. Volume One covers 1st-7th arrondissements. I never left the apartment w/out this comprehensive little book and really understood what I was seeing in historical perspective.

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Rainy season travel: I note many readers hesitate to travel to south or central America during rainy season...they should re-consider. I lived in Mexico, and the rainy season was the nicest time of year. It doesn't rain all day for hours on end...just for a couple of pretty predictable hours in the afternoon. In the city it's a nice time to stay in and watch the rain with a good book, knowing the rains almost always clear in time for dinner. And at the beach, the Americans stay away during rainy season, but the Mexicans throng to the coast. It's fun to swim in the rain. Meanwhile it can be a very affordable time to travel, and the rain washes away a lot of the air pollution and allergens. All in all, I recommend the rainy season.

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Baggage limits: It's per bag, and usually clearly states so on the Web site. We recently traveled on Delta.

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DC area day spa: Try The Pearl Day Spa in Fulton (near Columbia, MD in Howard County). It's a little farther out, but the warm brownie and champagne (free!) upon request will make up for it. :)

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Gambling: My grandparents live in South Sioux City, Nebraska, just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, IA. There is a riverboat casino in Sioux City that my grandparents go to a couple times a week. Each time I'm in town, they take me. They always give me $10 with which to gamble.I personally don't care for gambling, so I take $5 and spend it on penny slots, pocket the other $5, then spend the rest of the time having free soft drinks and self-serve ice cream. After doing this many times, I'm comfortable in the knowledge that the self-serve machine is the only one in the joint that pays off everytime!

Nancy Trejos: Cute! Thanks for sharing.

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Portland with a toddler: We did this over Christmas (with an almost two year old) but had a car... there are lots of parks there, which is nice (and the airport has a great playground.) The Children's museum is really nice and has a fun water area. Its by the zoo, which is also nice... I'm guessing there are buses that would go out there, and I think the light rail does as well.

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First-Time Gambler: When I was 21 (MANY years ago), my family took a trip to Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. I went to my first casino in San Juan, a very dressy affair then. I was wearing a long scoop-neck dress and at 5'9" with waist-length blond hair, I knew I stood out in the crowd. While learning Black Jack sitting next to my mom, I was enjoying the attention of the dealer. I ordered a Coke and Mom and I continued playing, The dealer waved and two men appeared, they all were whispering (in Spanish, obviously) and were pointing to me. I tried to hear what they were saying but could not make it out. A few hands later, the two gentlemen came over and placed a man's jacket over my shoulders. My mom thought that, perhaps, they felt the dealer was being distracted by my neckline and I was winning too much. I couldn't imagine what was going on so I asked them why they felt the need to cover my outfit (it really wasn't all THAT revealing). Found out there was a misinterpretation... when I asked for a Coke, they thought I said COAT and, in their attempts to keep the patrons happy, brought me the best thing they could find!

Nancy Trejos: How funny!

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NJ Casinos: Many of the Atlantic City Casinos are running mid-week specials due to the poor economy. My father got a mid-week rate at the Borgata less than $100 per night.As far as the "second-tier" casinos go, the Hilton is quite nice, much smaller than the other casinos, and has an excellent steakhouse (Peregrine's) and an outstanding Sunday brunch. Bally's has an exceptionally nice spa and indoor pool. Showboat needs a bit of a facelift, but the House of Blues is in the casino, the chatter may be able to find a concert he or she likes, and they have a good gospel brunch on Sunday mornings.

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Also for the USA driving traveler: I'm jealous! What a great trip. In addition to the national park system (see www.nps.gov), you should also keep your eyes open for state parks. Unfortunately I can't find a single internet source - there may be something in print, or you may just have to look state-by-state. Often they will have cheap-but-functional camping options, and some, like New York's Adirondacks, are huge and shouldn't be missed. Also, most states have tourism boards with comprehensive Web listings of state attractions, and sometimes deals. Look into our national auto club, AAA, (American Automobile Association) for maps and lodging/restaurant listing books (you have to be a member, don't know how that works from overseas), and since it sounds like you'll be driving your own accomodation, campground/RV organizations like KOA (Kampgrounds of America) and Good Sam, for lists of campgrounds. Finally, try to get off our interstate highway system! It's efficient but boring - there's a whole lot of local color to be found on the smaller byways.

Becky Krystal: Lots of great tips here. Thanks.

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Need a vacation!: Hi travel gurus - thanks for these chats. I always learn something and it is great to imagine being on one of the great vacations you write about! My husband and I need a vacation, but we can't agree on where to go. I think I can only be away from work for about 5 days, which makes me want to go somewhere nearby, but my husband wants to get back to Europe (he's thinking Spain or Germany). We've been to Italy, England, France and Hungary. We loved Budapest and Rome. We'd generally prefer cities, but we'd be open to more outdoor, adventure-type activities. Nothing too rural. Would appreciate any ideas you have!

Zofia Smardz: If you only have 5 days and prefer cities and are considering Germany -- go to Berlin. Fantastic.

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Gambling memories: As you'll be able to tell from this memory, I am not a serious gambler. Many years ago, I played the slots in Manaco. I lost a few francs, but then switched to a machine decorated with shamrocks, in honor of my Irish grandmother. My firt franc made me a modest amount that more than covered what I had spent so far. So I quit while I was ahead. I also once won about a gazillion drachma from a slot machine on a Greek cruise ship plying the Greek isles. They spilled out all over the foor. Great fun, but the drachma was so weak at the time that my winnings only came to about $50. Not that I'm complaining, of course. It's still a fun memory.

Nancy Trejos: Well, $50 is not so bad! Thanks for sharing.

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Bratislava: Any suggestions for meals in Bratisalva?

Zofia Smardz: Not that familiar with Bratislava, alas. Maybe some chatter will know?

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Mount Rushmore: Interested in taking a long weekend or week to explore Mt. Rushmore and the area. From a map it appears that the closest/easiest major airport is Denver - about 300+ miles away. Any suggestions or must see & do things? Will the weather be bearable and drivable in March?

Joe Yonan: Not sure where you're flying from, but next March I'm seeing flights from DCA to Rapid City, SD, the closest (but regional, definitely not major) airport, for $391, which seems pretty good given, well, that it's a regional airport. It's a bit cold in March in SD: average low of 21 and average high of 45, but certainly drivable. As for things to do, there are caves and caverns and bears and wax and woodcarving and hay rides and old trains and ...

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for the confused Paris bound: Rick Steve's Paris guidebook was an incredible help on my first visit. Two great ideas: Arrive at the Eiffel Tower in time to watch the sunset, and also, take a self-guided bus tour--It tells you which route to take, where to pick it up, which side of the bus to sit on, how to spot landmarks, and a short paragraph about pertinent sites. Take the bus all the way to Pere Lachaise Cemetery (fascinating!). And don't miss Musee d'Orsay! Buy a Paris museum pass (a must!) at the Picasso museum. They don't tend to run out of them.Read the book BEFORE getting there. I would have figured out how to purchase a cheaper bus/metro pass if I had.

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Block Island--that's not the article on BIRI: Thanks for the link to your recent Rhode Island (Naraggansett-focued) article, but that's not the BIRI article I was looking for. The one I was looking for, the author stayed on BI and had recommendations as to where to stay. Any ideas where that article is?

Andrea Caumont: Is it this one?

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Round the US trip: I might suggest reversing the loop, heading south first rather than across the northern US. That way you hit the South before it gets oppressively muggy.

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Cruise in March: It looks like the cruise I was planning on attending in March is finally a definite Go! So now I need to focus on how I'm getting there. How much should I expect to pay for a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico leaving in late March from DC? Also, ports of call include Aruba and Curacao, among others. Do I need to renew my passport or will my driver's license suffice for identification? Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: I'm seeing round-trip flights from DC to San Juan in the mid- to -high $200 range for late March. And yes, I would renew your passport.

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European rail tickets: I was just about to ask about the best way to purchase European rail tickets when I saw the earlier question. Do you have a link to this column? My concern is that my hubby and I are planning to take an overnight train between Prague and Zagreb, and you can't buy tickets for this trip on the Czech railways website (or RailEurope, evidently, but I had already heard about that being generally more expensive). We'll only be arriving in Prague a week earlier- do international night trains tend to sell out in advance or will we likely be ok purchasing tickets once we arrive in Prague? Thanks!

Zofia Smardz: Here's the story. My feeling is you'll be okay purchasing tickets when you get there, but let's ask the chatters.

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Underage in Vegas: Twenty years ago, my sister and I were in Las Vegas on vacation. My sister, 21, and I, 19, were enjoying ourselves at the slot machines when she won $50. (That was a lot of money to college students back then!) She jumped up and down shouting, "I won! I won!", and a casino employee came over and said, "Yes, but are you old enough to keep it?" She pulled out her ID to prove she was legal, and they let her keep her winnings. Mind you, I'm still feeding the slot machine next to her, and ordering free drinks from the waitresses. I'm 8 inches taller, so I guess I looked older, LOL.

Nancy Trejos: Funny!

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"What was your luckiest, unluckiest, or just most interesting gambling experience?": February 1999. In mid-January I had crashed my car on a Monday night and then on Wednesday night I got laid off from my job and was given one week's severance (cheap $&%*s). About three weeks later the auto body shop called to say the car could be picked up on Wednesday and that my insurance was paying for everything but the $250 deductible. With no job, the $250 was going to hurt. The day before I went to pick up the car, I stopped at Giant to get some groceries and I bought a scratch-off Virginia lottery ticket......and won $250.

Nancy Trejos: Wow. Great story!

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Mexico : Thanks for the wonderful Travel section and the helpful chats. Husband and I are late 20-s, no kids, very stressful professional jobs and haven't taken a vacation in 3 years. I have fond memories of childhood beach vacations on the western side of Mexico, but am uncertain about Mexico today (20 years later). I would love to find a beach town/city/area that is easily accessible from the Washington metro area, is not totally Americanized (as I've heard Cancun is), is *not* an all-inclusive resort, has Mexican culture, is safe, but is somewhat luxurious (4-5 stars preferred). Can you provide any suggestions? Thank you!

Joe Yonan: We're about to end the chat, so don't have a lot of detail here, but the first thing that came to mind was Puerto Vallarta. I'm not seeing nonstop flights, but could still be worth considering.

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For Bratislava: It's been a while, but I had a nice al fresco dinner at the Carlton Hotel's terrace restaurant right on the main square in Bratislava several years ago.

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Nancy Trejos: prize. As for everyone else, please join us again next Monday!


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