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In Amsterdam, Time Is on Your Side

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Q. My husband and I will have a six-hour layover at the Amsterdam airport. We would like to leave the airport and see a little of Amsterdam. Is that possible? What would you do, and what is the best and least-complicated way to get into the city?

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Tere Mathieu, Springfield

A. It's not only possible but highly recommended. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is less than nine miles from the city center, about a 15-minute train ride. There are storage lockers throughout the airport, so it's super-easy to stash your carry-ons (cost is $7 to $14 for the day, depending on size) and hop a train into the city. Trains run 24-7 and leave about every 15 minutes during the day; round-trip tickets start at about $9.90. You can buy tickets in advance on the Dutch Railways Web site, http://www.ns.nl, or from vending machines at the station.

One hour down, five to go. Deducting two hours to get back to the airport and through security, you've got a nice chunk of time to have a look around.

My favorite way to get to know a new city is to just start walking, but you might want to spring for a classic one-hour canal tour. The area around the station is crawling with cruise companies, and at about $17 per person, it's a good way to get oriented and savor the postcard views of canal houses, churches and markets.

Next, pick a museum.The big three are the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. My top choice would be Anne's house, for its human scale and profound sense of pathos. Lines can be long, so buy your tickets in advance online (http://www.annefrank.org). Same with the Van Gogh Museum (http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl). For more on Amsterdam: I Amsterdam, http://www.iamsterdam.com.

My wife and I will be traveling to Costa Rica in November. Part of the trip includes a one-week stay at a resort on the Pacific in Guanacaste. We have the option of taking a Gray Line bus from San Jose to the resort and back or renting a car. Is it safe to rent a car in Costa Rica and drive the local highways?

Norbert Flatow, Springfield

You should be fine renting a car, as long as you're up for dodging potholes, pedestrians, bicyclists and meandering farm animals. In addition, the U.S. State Department warns on its Costa Rica info sheet (http://travel.state.gov; click on International Travel, then A-Z Country Index) that signage is minimal, traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turn signals are rarely used, shoulders are narrow and many roads are unpaved.

Yikes. But wait! "This is simply part of the adventure," says Gina Tamasi, an agent with Absolutely Costa Rica (800-825-1433, http://www.absolutelycostarica.com). "I personally think renting a car in Costa Rica is a great way to have the freedom to see the country."

A car, she says, will give you the chance to explore other beaches, take day tours and go out for dinner and entertainment. If you do rent one, note that the State Department warns against driving at night and against keeping valuables in cars, which are frequently targeted by criminals.

Tamasi says the Gray Line has its advantages, as there are no headaches with finding your way or dealing with the traffic. But she warns that the process can be time-consuming because the line is a scheduled service that picks up and drops off people at various hotels at both ends of the trip.

Bottom line: If you plan to stay put at your beach resort, take the bus. If you want to be active and see as much of the country as you can, rent a car.

Your Turn

A couple of readers had additional recommendations for tour operators offering trips to Burma (Travel Q&A, Sept. 6). Sheila Musselman likes Serious Traveler (800-762-4216, http://www.serioustraveler.com), a.k.a. Travel Concepts International. Its "Splendors of Myanmar" trip costs $2,990 per person double (international airfare not included) and features a candlelight dinner at an ancient pagoda and horse-cart visits to local villages.

And Jennifer Brasher recommends Journeys Nature and Cultural Expeditions (011-95-1-664275, http://www.journeysmyanmar.com), based in Yangon. A seven-night soft-adventure trip based at a remote wilderness lodge in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas runs $2,695.

For the reader who asked about where to park for a cruise leaving from Manhattan (Aug. 16), Mary Holland said some cruise ships have buses leaving from the Baltimore Travel Plaza. Check with your cruise line.

Regarding renting a villa in Tuscany (Aug. 9), Jeff Posner of North Bethesda said that while insisting on written contracts and credit card transactions might be prudent, it also limits your options, excluding smaller properties that don't offer such financial safeguards. A nice flat in a hill town might be just the ticket for couples, he said, and in many cases you can vet the properties on travel blogs and online review sites.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.



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