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Monday, August 23, 2010; 2:00 PM

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Becky Krystal: Greetings, travelers. An important scheduling note before we start: Beginning next week (Aug. 30), our chat will be moving to noon on Mondays. Same day, brand new time. Mark your calendars and schedule accordingly!Now, on to the business of the day. Have you had a chance to check out our photo contest winners? (And vote for your favorite while you're there.) Tell us about a favorite photo you've taken. Make us see it with your words. Best answer gets the prize.

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Paris in October: We're heading to Paris in late October to celebrate a 15th anniversary. Do you have any hotels that you would recommend? We're looking someplace that is reasonable, has some character, and is relatively convenient to the main sights. Thanks for your help.

Zofia Smardz: I stayed at the Hotel Chateau Frontenac, right off the Champs Elysees. Very nice, quite reasonable for Paris. Also stayed at the Hotel du Louvre, which was really wonderful, but more expensive.Chatters, we need some suggestions from you!

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Cabin camping around DC: Submitting early due to a meeting. My SO and I would like to spend a weekend night "camping" sometime soon near DC. Ideally, this would mean staying in a small cabin by a lake, where there would be opportunities to canoe/kayak and generally relax with minimal people or distractions around us. We don't need a fancy or expensive cabin with a full kitchen, just a bed where we could lay our heads for a night. I checked local state parks, but they all seem to require a stay of two nights for a cabin on the weekends. Know of anywhere that will let you stay one night? Thanks!

Becky Krystal: I can't recommend any places that allow you to stay one night off the top of my head, but try browsing this handy cabin guide we put together the other year. You might just need to make a few calls to the places that strike your fancy.Campers, if you know of a place, please pipe up.

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Seven hours in Amsterdam: My daughters and I have a 7 hour layover in Amsterdam on our return from in India in November. We would like to make a quick trip into the city. Is that do-able? Crazy? If it is do-able, do you have any suggestions on what we should do with that time?

Nancy Trejos: Amsterdam's airport is about sevem miles from the center of dowtown, so it's do-able. You can take the train downtown, which will take about 20 minutes.You won't have much time to sightsee but you must go to the Anne Frank House. And to either the Van Gogh museum or the Rijksmusem, which has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Amsterdam has great architecture, and of course the canals. I would walk around the Canal Ring. And grab lunch at an outdoor cafe.

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PARIS AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION: Someone asked about this last week. Supershuttle now has service in Paris from Charles de Gaulle for 20 euros; you can make a reservation on their Web site. Not as cheap as the RER but cheaper than a taxi.

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Cuba embargo: I'm a lawyer and a naturalized US citizen. The travel ban is wrong. Period. Put aside the fact that Americans can travel to much worse places; it's simply not the government's role to decide where citizens may or may not go for policy reasons. We're not subjects, we're citizens.All this offensive policy has accomplished, besides weakening what America stands for, is to keep Castro in power and, amazingly, make him a sympathetic figure. Maybe after 5 decades of failure it's time to try something new. I'm sick of seeing my government captured by the Cuban exile community.

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First time to Outer Banks: Hi, there. We (including an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old) are thinking of hitting the Outer Banks in September for the first time. Which communities do you think would be best for a small family? Are there any we should not consider (for example, because of distance from restaurants, etc.)? Also, since it's a pretty narrow spit, does it make a real difference if we stay on the Sound side vs. nearer the ocean?Thanks!

Carol Sottili: I like the Village at Nags Head and Currituck Club near Corolla. Both straddle the sound/ocean, so you can stay on either side. I always preferred the bay side for sunsets. Re: restaurants, they are not densely packed, so you'll probably have to get in the car and drive unless you stay in the more built-up areas, such as Kitty Hawk.

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40th Birthday Weekend Trip: I'm turning 40 this fall and my husband and I are looking to take a fun getaway in early November. We'd like to fly somewhere warm that won't break the bank - any suggestions??

Becky Krystal: Give us a few more paramaters. What do you like to do? What kind of scene are you looking for?

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Cuba travel: The ban should have been lifted 20 years ago. Its beneficiaries have been Cuban politicians in Florida and anti-communist politicians throughout the country. No harm was done to Fidel Castro, who had led Cuba since Eisenhower was president. The only people who have been harmed are the Cuban people, and the Americans who would like to travel there and trade with Cuba.

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Travel Pictures: I am disappointed with the travel pictures that were shown online. I wonder what the others were that were entered. These ones I felt were dull. Some of them lacked some uniqueness. For example the picture of the wave is pretty well known. Similar pictures can be found on the cover of Arizona tour guides. Last year's was an interesting perspective. There was some creativity there. Someone standing on a beach at sunset. What is original there? I guess I need an explanation as to why they were selected.

Joe Yonan: Unfortunately we can't show you the 1,600 original entries, but the panel of judges -- which includes all of us on the Travel staff plus photo editors and art directors -- definitely found things that drew us to each one of the photos in the gallery. (And the captions explain what we liked about each.) For some of the more common scenes, such as the Wave, we appreciated the great composition. Others were truly unique, such as the umbrella in Italy.

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NYC with kids: We are a family of five (two parents, two teenagers and a 5-year-old) who is looking to do a long weekend in NYC without bed bugs and without breaking the bank. We are planning to drive up but know that parking sometimes can cost as some hotel rooms. Any places outside the city to park for several days and then train or bus into the city?Would love suggestions on family (budget) friendly places to stay and ideas for things to do that will be appreciated by all. Clearly the old stand-bys (SoL and ESB) are on the list. What unique things should we consider?Thanks in advance!

Carol Sottili: You could stay in New Jersey and take the train in from there. The Hilton Newark Penn Station has rooms starting at about $125 a night, although not sure they will sleep five people. And be careful about those bed bugs - latest was they were found in Empire State Building.

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DC transplant living in Japan!: Hi Travel Gurus!!! I used to live in DC but now living in Japan but still follow your chats - it's the highlight of my Tuesday morning (due to the time difference!). Anyway so I have a question for you and fellow chatters - my husband and I want to travel to China next spring/summer and want to include Tibet in our itinerary so wanted to know if anyone has gone to Lhasa and if you can recommend any tour companies? Any information would be great, please help!!!Thanks!

Becky Krystal: Tibet, anyone?

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Favorite photo: My favorite photo is just a random picture I took last year of the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog. It's a beautiful scene, with one little eye-catching feature: a random guy doing his daily run (I assume) and looking at me as I take the picture. It's the desktop pic on one of my computers, and I smile every time I see it because it both reminds me of that trip (and how awesome San Francisco is) but also because it makes me think about how many random pictures that other people --strangers-- have taken of me both here in DC and traveling so they see me and wonder who I am when they relive vacations!

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Train travel: Going to southern Spain next month (Madrid-Andalusian cities and back) and plan to get around by train. Is there an advantage to getting a rail pass or should I just buy the individual tickets?

Zofia Smardz: K.C. Summers, one of our Going Our Way gurus, recommends buying a pass before you go in this column, which you might find helpful in general for your trip.

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San Francisco: I am accompanying my husband to San Fransisco at the end of September where he will be at a conference for a few days, and I'll have two days to myself to sightsee by myself. I've been to SF before, so I've seen the major attractions, and am interested in doing a one-day bus tour of the Napa valley. I've never been there and love wine, and it's unlikely that my husband will ever want to go there with me, so this may be my only chance to tour wine country in the near future. Can you recommend a non-cheesy tour that would be good for a early 40's woman to take by herself? I don't mind being carted around by bus for a day, but hate feeling like cattle. Do you have any recommends for my other day there? Can you recommend any walking tours? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Do you want company? If you don't need it, I'd recommend that you rent a car and do it on your own, to avoid the cattle feeling. But that's just me. I haven't taken any bus tours of Napa, but maybe some chatters have? As for your other day, I'm writing a piece on walking in SF for this next Sunday's Travel section, so look for it -- it'll give you a few good ideas, I hope!

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Travel: In July I ended up paying for two tickets for an emergency trip from Dulles to Pensacola, FL when I needed to be there for a family medical emergency. My travel agent booked me a round-trip flight on Wed. July 7 on United using my US Air frequent flyer miles. I flew on July 8. The ticket cost 25,000 miles plus $105 in fees to US AIr. While my travel agent was sending me an email with the flight information and my agent's fee, she accidentally pushed the wrong key and and ran a one-way ticket from Dulles to Pensacola for $892.70. She immediately called United but was told that "she flew on that ticket so it could not be voided or refunded." I knew nothing about a second ticket. The agent never actually held a seat on that record. Neither had she ever made an error like this in 27 years of being an agent. Since then, she has emailed and written to United (cannot reach a real person) with no response. For me, dealing with family emergency and United has been very stressful. I have also written to United, just last week. Why wasn't I checked in on the ticket I confirmed? Why can't United issue a refund? I paid $997 plus 25,000 frequent flyer miles for this ticket. What can I do? I have not yet contacted US Air as I am hoping for a positive respond from United. The travel agent will reimburse me for her error, but I believe United should issue a refund. Thank you.

Christopher Elliott: You should be able to get a response from United, at the very least. Try one of these contacts at the airline. If you don't hear back, please send me an email and I'll do my best to help.

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Cuba: I've been to Cuba twice -- legally both times -- and I can unequivocally say that the ban needs to be lifted. Every single Cuban I met was engaging, friendly and, most of all, thirsting for American information and culture. In a way it will be sad, in fact, that the ban gets lifted, because the resulting impact will probably be a dilution of Cuban culture in favor of even more of a "tourist" culture. But I have no doubt that, if you want to put pressure on the Cuban government, the best way to do it is to facilitate interpersonal contact and free exchange of information and ideas. Once the Cubans see more Americans face-to-face, they'll want and demand more.

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IAD to Berlin: Why can't I fly non-stop from IAD to Berlin? I suspect it is because Frankfurt has the huge US air base. Is there any chance of starting non-stop flights to Berlin?Thanks very much.

Zofia Smardz: You'll have to ask Lufthansa about this! They must not consider it cost-effective at this time.

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English Gardens by Train: Visiting England for 9 days in early September. Plan to stay a few days in London, then relocate to a quaint town outside of London and daytrip to gardens by train. Any suggestions on picturesque towns with rail access and gardens would be greatly appreciated.

Becky Krystal: It might take a little digging through them, but you might find inspiration in these articles we've had on the Lake District, northern England and a garden tour.

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My Best Shot: I went to Ireland in 2004, and we visited Clonmacnoise Monastery, which dates to the early 1000s. I thought it was going to be boring, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The ruins were spectacular. Clonmacnoise sits right on the River Shannon, so the lush green landscape against the river is in direct contrast with the stark white and gray of the monastic ruins. I took a picture of a stone Celtic cross through the crumbled walls of one of the buildings, with the river in the background. The perspective in the shot is really incredible.

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Fav Photo - Venice: A few years ago when in Venice, I passed a shop window that was chock full of Venetian masks used at Carnivale. I shot it from three different angles, and the one that I finally loved was the slightly side view - an explosion of gold, blue, and silver colors of a multitude of almost faceless masks. You cannot look at it and not think "Venice".

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Re: Hotel in NYC/NJ area: We always stay at the Courtyard in Jersey City (Newport). The PATH train stop is just around the corner from the hotel. Parking is $16/night. Courtyard is a suites hotel so can definitely fit 5 into a room. We are going for a weekend in late October for $179/night, but Marriott runs specials often so you can get it cheaper a lot of the time. Also, you won't be paying tolls to get into NYC, plus you miss all the traffic headaches once you're in the city just to get to your hotel. There are other hotels in the Newport area of Jersey City too, but Courtyard is always our go-to.

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Favorite Picture: I was in Lake Tahoe, CA in late August, 2003. That area is so beautiful to begin with in the summer, with the amazing colors of the scenery -- the deep blue lake, pale purple mountains on the horizon. One evening, we had a brief thunderstorm pass through just before sunset. When the storm ended, the most amazing sunset against the billowy clouds created the most vivid picture -- bright pink and purple clouds against the mountains and over the lake. It was incredible. I'm so glad I got to capture that moment.

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Layover times at Atlanta airport: I just booked my Thanksgiving travel without realizing that I have a 36 minute layover in Atlanta on the day after Thanksgiving. Is that crazy? I'm flying Delta on both legs, so I'm hoping I'll be in the same terminal. What would happen if I didn't make the second flight? Am I right to assume if their system let me book the flights I shouldn't have trouble making them?

Carol Sottili: That's really tight. And no, you shouldn't assume that you'll make the flight just because the system allowed you to book it. If you miss your flight, you may be there a long time, as it is Thanksgiving weekend. I'd call Delta to see if there is a better alternative and if they will allow you to rebook without paying a fee.

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Bethesda, MD: Any ideas for a girl's weekend in October? It must be somewhere between DC and Atlanta. I'm stumped!

Becky Krystal: How about Asheville?

Zofia Smardz: Or Charleston. Or Savannah. Or the Outer Banks.

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San Francisco traveler: For the woman accompanying her husband to SF, I definitely agree about renting a car rather than taking a bus tour. It's such beautiful country in Napa and the surrounding area, and you may want to stop and see (or eat) something. I guess the only reason to take a bus tour instead is if you want to drink a lot of wine!!

Joe Yonan: Indeed.

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RE: Napa: um.....so you're recommending that this woman rent a car and drink wine and drive all day? I've worked on the tasting side....people DO get drunk having a little here and there. Please, recommend a tour. Or she should check meetup.com and find some other single gals in the area looking for an outing. Or a travel group such as SERVAS or hospitalityclub.org where she can have the company of a local and, hopefully, a designated driver.

Joe Yonan: I should've known this would be the reaction! Obviously, only drive if you're going to be responsible about the drinking, of course.

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Paris Hotels: Consider renting an apartment - there are plenty of rental sites and apartments in whatever part of town you would like to stay in. The rates are hard to beat.Speaking of renting one in Paris, we'll be there in mid-October staying in an apartment in the Marais district. Does anyone have cafe' or restaurant suggestions? Thanks!

Nancy Trejos: There is a heavy Jewish influence in that district, so I would definitely try some falafel at any of the restaurants or even a takeaway shop. Vins des Pyrenees is a nice bistro. Bistrot de L'Oulette is also a goodcomfy bistro. And thanks for the tip on renting an apartment!

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Outer Banks - First Timer: For the first trip down there, I recommend Nags Head over Corolla. More central and much more to do than in Corolla, particularly for inevitable rainy/cool September days. The restaurants and such are actually more densely packed there, with easy access to Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Duck for more choice. Don't miss the giant sand dunes of Jockey's Ridge - kids love it and it's a great place to fly a kite. Stay ocean side unless going to the actual beach itself isn't a big draw for you - the islands can be quite wide in some places and, no matter where you are, there is a highway that runs down the middle which can make it difficult to shuttle kids across. Your realty company should know how far you are from the beach, so definitely ask.

Carol Sottili:

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Weekend getaway advice: In early October we'll be visiting our mid twenties children who live in DC. Would like to take them away for a fun family weekend. Thinking about staying at an inn in either Virginia or West Virginia but am open to other suggestions. Maybe some wine tasting and a local event or two. Basically just some time for them to get out of the city and time for us to catch up on life. Not looking for a spa experience, but would like to be able to enjoy a good meal , good conversation and a bottle or two of wine at dinner. Suggestions appreciated.

Zofia Smardz: Not sure of your price range, but the Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville, Va., is lovely.

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Lhasa, Tibet: We went to Tibet with explore-himalaya.com. It's actually a Nepal company, but we chose a "soft trek" (that is, we were in a vehicle, not actually trekking!) trip from Lhasa across Tibet to everest Base Camp and on to Kathmandu. They used Tibetan guides and drivers rather than Chinese, although we did stay in a Chinese hotel in Lhasa. (We actually went through project-himalaya.com which now only handles treks and mountain ascents.) They have various trips including the train to Lhasa. They gave us a good, reasonably priced trip. We didn't chose a Chinese company because we wanted a company that could take us all the way to Kathmandu, not just the border with China.

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Favorite travel photo: My favorite is a photo of the Eiffel Tower, taken out the back window of a moving car right at sunset. The tower is lit up and slightly blurry, the sky is a vivid blue, and the trees look like they are whizzing by. The trees must have been closest because they are the only objects that seem to be moving. The colors are beautiful, and it reminds me of the specific trip and car ride that produced it.

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Favorite photo - chicago : Vacationing in in Java it was easy to take lots of National Geographic-esque photos - rice terraces, the spectacular ancient monument of Borobudur and Prambanan, and the Sultan's palace in Yogyakarta. The driver we hired to visit the monuments stopped at a mosque in a village on the way back for afternoon prayers. Out of respect, no photos inside during prayers, but I did snap a shot of hundreds of well worn shoes and sandals lined up neatly outside. That's my favorite photo - kind of artsy, but also a reminder of the rest stop we took, and an experience of local daily life. With the current media rants by all kinds of pundits about "sacred," or "hallowed" ground; I wonder who among them has taken off their shoes to enter a mosque?

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Favorite photo: My favorite photo was one I took on my husband on our honeymoon in San Francisco 3 years ago. Somewhere on the wharf there is a bench with sculptures of the three "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". My husband sat down with them and has the biggest grin on his face. I like to call it "just plain evil."

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Rocky Gap Resort : Hi - We're on our way to Rocky Gap resort this weekend with our two boys - ages 4 and 6. Is there anything we shouldn't miss? Are there any restaurants worth going to outside of the resort? are there any fun activities outside of the resort and state park? Any advice is much appreciated!

Nancy Trejos: Stroll around the Washington Street Historic District in Cumberland. The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is also great for kids. There are also great restaurants in Cumberland, such as D'Atri and El Canelo. Any chatters have tips?

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Kauai bound!: Hi Flight Crew and fellow chatters,Does anyone have recommendations for a luau in Kauai? Maybe a small, intimate evening and not hundreds of fellow tourists? How about a helicopter tour company?Many thanks.

Joe Yonan: Hmm, not I -- but among our chatters there's probably someone who knows firsthand!

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Where Can You Post Travel Reports?: I recently had a thoroughly unpleasant experience on a group tour (overcharges, misrepresentations, services not delivered, etc.). I wanted to post a negative review of the travel company on Trip Advisor, but found that their reviews focus almost entirely on physical places (hotels, tourist attractions, etc.). They don't even have a category for tour operators. Is there a web site (maybe more than one) where consumers can post their experiences, good and bad, with providers of travel services? I know about some general-interest sites like Ripoff Report, but I'm looking for one with a travel focus (and maybe a more neutral approach).

Christopher Elliott: That's a great question. Apart from TripAdvisor and a few smaller sites -- and you're right, they focus mostly on hotels -- there aren't any neutral, travel-specific sites you can visit.If your experience was with a local company, I might try taking this to the local Better Business Bureau or the chamber of commerce. Tour operators also have an organization, the US Tour Operators Association, that might be able to help mediate your problem. Other than that, you could take your grievance to a general-interest site like Consumerist. Full disclosure: I operate a site that specializes in solving travel-related problems, but I don't really do reviews.

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To Amsterdam-bound: I was just in Amsterdam last week. If you're time-crunched I would go for the Rijksmuseum over the Van Gogh (even though I liked the Van Goth better of the two) because the VG lines are _really_long. The only thing that saved us from literally hours of waiting was that we had our two small children with us and museum personnel came out to the line and fished out the people with children as well as the disabled to bypass the long line.Rijksmuseum is only partially open and not everything is on display-- but they have the highlights of their collecton on display and for that reason is also much more doable in that time period.Loved loved loved Amsterdam!

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Lake Tahoe, too!: My favorite picture was taken in Lake Tahoe, too! I was there visiting with family and my intrepid three-year-old niece started wading out into the shallow, chilly blue water, and as I watched her from shore, I was struck by how tiny she was compared to the enormous lake and even greater mountains on the opposite shore. And yet she was moving with such determination into the water, as if she had no idea how big the world in front of her was. I snapped her picture just like that. She's still that intrepid and curious!

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Travelling to Europe: I am hoping to meet up with a friend in Europe for an extended weekend between now and Thanksgiving. Obviously there are a lot of variables, however what are the fares like for a 4-5 day trip and what cities have less expensive flights? He will be in Italy, France, Germany, Prague... any tips for finding an affordable fare? Thank you!

Carol Sottili: Fares to Europe are high, especially for summer travel. Cheapest fares will likely be in November, on connecting flights, to cities where there is competition. Look at Munich, Frankfurt, Paris. They may be cheaper because several carriers travel those routes. For example, I found a connecting flight to Munich on US Airways for $643 round trip in early November - that's a good fare. You may also save money by flying midweek.

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compression socks: Ok, pregnant lady flying overseas soon. Doctor gave his blessing with the recommendation that I get some travel compression socks. Got any good brand recommendations?

Zofia Smardz: We don't, but let's ask the chatters.

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Favorite Photo: I was in Paris for the first time with my parnter, who was working, so I walked around by myself for four days. It was great! I walked up the stairs in the Eiffel Tower as far as I could go. The top level was closed, so I leaned out with my camera, facing up, and shot the top third of the tower. It's an amazing photo - the day was very clear and bright, and I was so close, you can see the individual lightbulbs that light the tower at night strung along its structure.

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Restaurants in the Marais: For falafel, run, do not walk, to L'As du Falafel on Rue des Rosiers. You can either eat in or get a falafel to go from the takeout window. Note that they are closed for the Sabbath.You also won't be far from Berthillon, which has incredible ice cream. It's on the Ile St. Louis on Rue St. Louis en Ile (I think).

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For IAD to Berlin: In the spring of 2001, Lufthansa did have nonstop service between Dulles and Berlin Tegel (I was on those flights in April 2001). That service ended with 9/11. I'd guess the problem is that Berlin is not a big destination for business travelers -- most businesses and industries are based in western Germany, not Berlin or environs.

Zofia Smardz: Thanks for this clarification.

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Traveling to Mexico: Great Monday! I just booked a trip to Cancun/Playa del Carmen for mid-November. Has anyone been there that time of year and know what the weather is like? Websites say mid-80s but I would love to hear from somone who has really been there. Does anyone have ideas about the day trips to the Mayan ruins? We will be two females - one fluent in spanish - and wonder if it is better to rent a cab with driver for the day or get a bus tour? Thanks for all your help and love the chats and articles.

Carol Sottili: I think that weather report is about right. There will be some rain, but not very rainy. And yes, definitely rent a cab first thing in the morning to see ruins. You don't want to get stuck on the bus all day.

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grad student: I'll be finishing up graduate school next April. I would like to do some international travel before I return to work, and am starting to think about where to go. I've never been to Europe, but I fear the dollar's weakness would make that kind of trip cost-prohibitive. Another idea is Quebec City/Maritime Canadian provinces. Can you suggest someplace for a 27-year old female traveling alone who speaks only English could afforably go for 2-3 weeks?

Nancy Trejos: Montreal as well? And I know you said you speak only English, but perhaps you should consider Latin America. I'm just throwing this out there, but what about Ecuador? You can go to Quito and Guayaquil and then head to the Galapagos Islands. Or you can travel around Central America. A friend once did a trip to Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala. English is widely spoken in Belize.

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Edinburgh/London: I'm heading to London and Edinburgh tomorrow! Been to London before, but never to Edinburgh. Anything great that isn't in a guidebook? Or a great, not too expensive place to eat? Love comments from both the crew and the chatters. Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Here's one thing: an underground tour. Fun!

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Travel Insurance: A friend and I are planning a 10 day trip to Spain. If we are purchasing our airline tickets directly from the carrier (American) online, is it best to purchase insurance at that time or should we shop around? How do we best determine what type of coverage we need? Thank you.

Carol Sottili: You usually have to buy insurance within two weeks of your initial trip deposit in order to cover pre-existing conditions. But shop it around. Go to InsureMyTrip, QuoteWright and Squaremouth.

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Barcelona recommendations: Hello! I'm traveling to Barcelona and Mallorca next week for about 10 days. Any recommendations on things to do/see, restaurants, etc? Thank you!

Zofia Smardz: Here's a recent story on Barcelona. And another one. They should both offer you some ideas on what to do and see and where to eat (be sure to click on the Details link.)

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Favorite Photo: I was in Jerusalem and snapped a photo of a carpet/rug with a variety of geometric patterns and colors - green and orange and red and black and blue, all in a variety of geometric patterns, crazyquilt in the best way. Its contrast against Jerusalem stone - hung up in all its glory - was remarkable.Well, either that or my photo of a Texas-shaped waffle iron that made it into the Sunday Travel section :-)

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Foreign Currency: Hi folks! I remember an article from a while back discussing the best way to get foreign currency before a trip, but my searches on the phrase "foreign currency" only turn up articles from the Business section. Can you steer me in the right direction? Thanks!

Joe Yonan: Here it is: Nancy Trejos, with the help of Christina Talcott overseas, reported on a variety of money-exchanging strategies.

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40th Birthday Trip - again: I'd love to plop on a beach somewhere warm and read trashy novels and drink wine. :) Good restaurants would be nice as would be a great pool. I thought about the Carribean but I'm worried it won't be warm enough. Also, we are on somewhat of a budget. I'd love if you could recommend some destinations and/or travel sites that offer good deals. THANKS!!!

Carol Sottili: Liberty Travel. Also, Cancun and Bahamas are cheap but may be too cool depending on time of year.

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DC weather in mid-November?: Coming to DC for a conference 12-14 November. How cold is the weather typically then?

Nancy Trejos: Weather.com says the average temperature in November is 57 degrees. Not that cold! But then again I don't know where you're coming from or what your tolerance level is. D.C. is nice in the fall.

Zofia Smardz: We can still get a major warm spell here in November (Washington weather is so variable). I had a friend visiting around that time one year and a couple of days the temps hit the high 80s and even 90!

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Re: Cabin near DC: There aren't a lot of lakes in the DC area besides Smith Mountain Lake, Burke Lake, and a couple others. Your best bet is to try a commercial campground, like the KOA in Luray, VA or go through a canoing/rafting company - they usually have cabins/campgrounds too.

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Best Value for Warm Winter Vacation: My wife wants our family to go on a winter vacation to somewhere warm. We can fly from BWI, Harrisburg or Dulles airport, and hope to rent a house or timeshare with another family. We're not really picky about where we want to go, but airfare to some of the Caribbean islands is way too high. Where can the best value be found this winter in terms of airfare and lodging? FWIW, I've been looking mostly at Miami, Bahamas or Puerto Rico so far, but nothing has jumped out at me.

Zofia Smardz: What about Mexico? You don't say when you're going or how long for, but I'm finding airfares to Cancun out of Dulles as low as $299 in Jan. for one-stop flights.

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NoLa: Headed to New Orleans in early January. What to do with only three days? Are tour companies worth the cost to see plantation homes, neighborhoods etc? I want to sample local food. As for the 24/7 party on Bourbon St I may glance in but as a Friend of Bill it's not my thing.

Joe Yonan: Go to the World War II museum. Eat your heart out by following just the hangover-breakfast part of this piece. If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend that you try to catch repeats of "Treme" on HBO or pre-order the DVD and then explore some of the places on the show.As for the tours, I haven't taken any of them (not my style), but others can weigh in if they have!

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holiday in Rome?: I am thinking of heading to Rome over Christmas in Rome. I've seen mixed reviews about Rome at Christmas. The only other time would have time would be the end of May. Would you recommend chancing some places being closed and paying lower rates in December for the holiday atmosphere or pay higher rates and deal with tourists?

Zofia Smardz: Go at Christmas! It's lovely, though not as over-the-top as we go here in terms of decorations and lights, etc. Yes, some things will be closed, but there's so much to see and do that it shouldn't really matter that much. And it's worth it to avoid the tourist hordes of spring.

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The travel ban--long ago derided : Singer/songwriter Phil Ochs wrote about the reporter William Worthy who was prosecuted by the federal government for going to Cuba without permission. Ochs's song was released on his first album back in 1964! That was after Worthy's conviction for his 1961 trip had been overturned by a federal court. As Ochs said:"Somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say,'You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.' "

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travel photos: I really do not see the appeal fo the first two photos (the surfer and the kids)--to me, these would not even rank as honorable mention. But some of the honorable mention photos are terrific and seem much more like travel photos than the first two.

Zofia Smardz: Appreciate your opinion.

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Staying in Paris: Consider renting an apartment if you're staying a week or so. I've enjoyed the places I've rented from France: Homestyle, which has apartments in several central locations, and even has Seine houseboats, if you want to splurge on a unique experience.

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Cool photo: At Hradcany in Prague, there's a few guard stations, and they're very tolerant of people posing for photos right next to the guards. A favorite photo of mine shows a guard decked out in his finest parade livery, not smiling, right next to an elderly Japanese woman in formal wear, giving just a hint of the fact that she was having a total blast.

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Compression Socks: The good ones usually require a doctor's prescription, so I'd get that and go from there.

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Typo Eradication Advancement League: I'm still troubled by what these guys did to the historic sign at the Grand Canyon, so I'm happy to hear that they're asking permission before correcting signs from here on out. Because the story was a little cryptic about the Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter-designed Watch Tower and accompanying hand-lettered sign that they damaged in their typo-fixing quest, how about giving the eccentric-but-genius architect her due with an upcoming travel story? You could start with La Posada in Winslow, Az - an old Harvey House and now hotel and restaurant, and then move on to some of her better known Grand Canyon works.

Zofia Smardz: Not a bad idea. We'll certainly take it under advisement.

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Cruising: when I did an Alaska cruise a few years back, there was a couple who boarded part way through the cruise. My cabinmate asked crew about this and they said it's done sometimes.I recently called to inquire about doing this in the Caribbean and was told only under dire circumstances. Do you have any knowledge about this?Honey wants to go to Barbados AND St Lucia - so I was wondering about o/w airline tix and cruising back.

Carol Sottili: My guess is that they knew someone or they missed their flight and had to meet up with the ship. I've not heard of this being done, and would think it unlikely, especially on larger lines that rely on highly regimented boarding procedures. Anyone else know differently?

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She was a day tripper . . .: I know you've covered this, but I could use some recommendations for day trips or one-night trips within about two hours from northern Virginia. Would prefer to avoid the Beltway and I-95, so I guess somewhere in Virginia, West Virginia, or western Maryland might be best. Thoughts (or links to previously suggested sites)? We like wineries, but have been to most of the ones within an hour of DC. Nothing too athletic, as one of us is recovering from a severely sprained ankle. Thank you!

Nancy Trejos:

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England gardens: You can take the train to either Hampton Court Palace or Hatfield House, both of which have gorgeous gardens. Each is an easy trip, and if memory serves, you can get exterior-only passes if you're really only interested in seeing the grounds and not in looking inside the buildings.

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The Florida Keys between Xmas and New Years?: My husband and I are hoping to squeeze a quick babymoon in between Christmas in DC and New Years plans on the Eastern Shore. We've never been to the Keys and would love to go somewhere warm and relaxing, while close enough for a 3-4 day trip. Will it be crazed during that holiday week? Can you recommend some off the beaten path, somewhat affordable digs in the Keys where we can enjoy our last moments of peace and quiet for the next 18 years??? Thanks!

Christopher Elliott: The Keys are not totally crazy between Christmas and New Years (I used to live there). Things tend to get real busy between January and March, and slow down after Spring Break.Two recommendations for you. If you want to be in the middle of everything, you might try Hawks Cay in the middle Keys. You'll have easy access to the best diving in Key Largo but it's not too far to Key West. For total solitude, and if you can get a room there, try Little Palm Island, which is on its own island in the lower Keys.

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Caribbean boating: any ideas for renting a captain and boat to do a little island hopping? If we just want transport from one island to another for a few days (since presumably we'll have RT air) should we hire a captain for each direction or one person and say "hey, meet us back at the dock in five days"? Thinking about 5 days in St John and St Croix each. Thanks!

Carol Sottili: Take a look at this Going Our Way article I wrote on the subject.

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Amsterdam - VG skip the long lines: buy your ticket at a tourist booth around town or in the train station. Then you can stand in the short line. It's sooooo worth visiting! You can't NOT go. I also recommend the library. While that might sound strange...it has a rooftop cafe with a lovely view of the city. And it's really an amazing library.

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Philadelphia: I am going up to Philadelphia in October for the Cleopatra exhibit at the Frankling Institute. Do you have any recommendations for hotels near by?

Becky Krystal: How about the Hotel Palomar?

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Arrival for domestic segments connecting to international flights: I am traveling from SFO to Cancun via LAX and Delta insists that I need to arrive at SFO three hours in advance for my 7 a.m. flight. The ticket counter doesn't even open until 4:30, so obviously they are exaggerating, at best. What is a reasonable amount of time to arrive beforehand?

Christopher Elliott:

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photo contest: Were you surprised how many entries were from outside the local area? Who did the judging? Personally I never find your winners to be especially compelling. But I did like the Nepal boats picture.

Joe Yonan: Yep, we were! As I said, the judging was done by us on staff, plus Post photo editors and art directors, plus special guest Carol Enquist, photo editor at Nat Geo Traveler.

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tipping concierges: Can you give us a guideline for tipping hotel concierges in Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary)? I know we will be asking for help for concert tickets and restaurant reservations.(And while we're up, what do we tip the doorman/bellhop?)

Zofia Smardz: Tipping is always tricky, but I'd tip the equivalent of $5-$10 depending on how many concert tickets and restaurant reservations each concierge arranges. If they do more, like arranging a rental car, I'd go as high as $20.There are plenty of tipping guides online that you might want to check out before you go. Concierge.com has a good tipping guide here.

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DC in November: It can be really cold, and even snowy, in November too! I think the only good advice is that it's variable and the writer should check closer to his/her trip. With all of this crazy weather we've been having in 2010, there is no way to predict what it'll be like in 3 months.

Becky Krystal: Just as long as there are no more freaky t-storms.

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Outer Banks: Try Hatteras Island. We like Avon because it's centrally located -- you can be on Roanoke Island, the Nags Head area or Okracoke in under an hour if you're looking for day trips. And, you're just 7 miles from the lighthouse. Avon has nice restaurants, shops, a fishing pier and a movie theater. It's fun to go to the docks in Hatteras and watch the fishing boats come in at the end of the day. In September, oceanfront/oceanside houses are very affordable.

Carol Sottili: I think these areas less crowded and very scenic, but more out-of-the-way than the northern Outer Banks, With kids, I'd still opt for Nags Head.

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Mexico via Edinburgh: Was just in Scotland in May and ate the best Mexican food I've ever had (granted, have never been to actual Mexico). It came recommended by a guy we met on a tour, but I was initially hesitant b/c Mexican food is notoriously bad in the UK. How wrong I was... The restaurant is called Viva Mexico and is on Cockburn Street. It's awesome and the family that runs it is really wonderful.

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For Edinburgh traveller : I was there a couple years ago and literally stumbled on a free city museum called The People's Story. It's just what the name implies--it tells the story of the everyday people of the city over several centuries. It does not seem to have a web site, but the address is: Canongate Tolbooth Royal Mile Edinburgh.I also found, again by accident, a writer's museum that have artifacts of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and others. Can't recall the name, but a guidebook should have it.

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fave photo from this summer: I was trying to catch my husband unawares, since he's always been a little awkward in front of the camera. We were sitting outside in Maine enjoying the sunset when I snapped a shot of him looking out over the ocean... my framing just so happened to align the sunset along the horizon with his eyeline so he looks like he's shooting lasers out of his eyes! Makes me laugh every time I see it :)

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travel agent error: I am confused. The travel agent made an error resulting in a $900+ ticket being booked. Why is it that the customer had to pay? Seems like this issue is between United and the travel agent, not the traveler.

Christopher Elliott: I was not taking sides -- only saying that United should have answered the first inquiry.

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Alitalia: I am considering selecting a flight on this airline. The reviews I have seen seem quite negative. Is that a correct depiction of this airline?

Carol Sottili: I've flown Alitalia several times and had both decent and bad experiences. SkyTrax, which does airline reviews, gives them three stars, or a fair, rating.

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More on travel complaints...: Just to follow up about the travel-complaint web site: It's not a local company, and I'm disputing some charges through my credit card company, so I don't really feel I need a mediator. But this operator is taking deposits on future tours into 2012. I was looking for a place to advise potential clients to keep their eyes open. Considering how big the travel tour industry is, I'm astonished that there isn't some kind of speciality website.

Christopher Elliott: Understood. No, there really isn't a site that deals specifically with tours. Well, let me back up a second -- it depends where you're going. There are destination-specific sites where you could register your unhappiness, and warn others. But nothing dedicated to tours that I know of.

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Compression stockings: My husband and I both wear Futuro brand. He wears the black dress-hose-looking model. Since my problems are fairly minor, I wear the "ultra sheer" mild-compression knee highs, which aren't sheer by fashion standards, but it's not obvious when they're worn under slacks (and on the plus side, they don't run easily). There are also moderate and firm strength compression levels -- check with your doctor or other healthcare provider.

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Ringers in the Photo Contest: I was disappointed that the winning photo was from a freelance photographer. I think the picture of the kids in the car was so much more special because it captured a moment in that family. In the future, can there be a rule that anyone who earns income from photography can't win?

Joe Yonan: We're way ahead of you -- that rule (and other changes) is in the works for next year.

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Compression socks: My husband is a physician and recommends Dr. Leonard's socks to his patients. Available on-line at http://www.drleonards.com/

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Snorkeling vacation in December : My sister lives in Los Angeles and I live in Rockville. We'd like to meet up for a snorkeling vacation in the Carribean (or other warm weather spot) for the week before Christmas. We both want to fly non-stop direct to the destination. We've decided against Mexico because of the current violence, but would be open to Florida or Central America with the same constraints (non-stop direct flights and snorkeling). Any great ideas? We can fly out of any airport in the area.Christie

Nancy Trejos:

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travel agent mistake: why is the poster having to deal with United in the first place? shouldn't the travel agent reimburse him and buy him 25K in united FF miles?

Christopher Elliott: Like I said before, I haven't taken sides in this one, but I'm going see what I can do to help get this reader's miles back.

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for the Playa del Carmen in November duo: Tulum is very easily reached by bus, and the return is just as easy since it is on the main costal highway, as I remember there was a shelter with the bus company name on it 'ADO." To go to Chichen Itza, the advice is correct - and your best bet is to find a driver (they congregate at 5th Ave. and 6th St) who is willing to leave extra early - 7:00 am or so, to beat the heat and all the big tour busses from Cancun that arrive precisely at Noon.) If you are there by 10 you'll have a much better experience.

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YES, travel to Cuba: The Cold War has been over for a while now. Americans can travel to Communist China, Vietnam, and even North Korea! Why not Cuba? Is there any other country where Americans are banned from traveling? ( I'm not talking about State Department warnings for some countries that are too dangerous, eg Sudan.)

Joe Yonan: I believe Cuba's it, at this point.

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Becky Krystal: OK, thanks for chatting with us this afternoon. The winner of the prize is the traveler who captured what sounds like an amazing scene at a monastery in Ireland. Please send your info to travel@washpost.com.Remember, we're moving to noon next Monday. We'll see you then!


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