Q: I'm planning a solo bike tour across the United States in June. I've got two months to do this. I don't want to miss the Great Lizard Cookout in Spearville, Kan., or the Biggest Apple Pie Bake in Elsinore, Utah--absurd, but wonderfully American possibilities that take place every day. Could you suggest events or sights that would be worth a detour? Maybe you could recommend a book.
A: We couldn't find anything quite as wonderful as your "possibilities," but a look at festivals in June and July came up with such gems as "Skunk Run Days" in Ottawa, Kan.; "Festival of the Fish" in Harrod, Ohio; "Spike, Rail, Chip & Cheese Festival" in Brewster, Ohio; the "Macksburg National Skillet Throw" in Macksburg, Iowa; and the "Cowboy Poetry Gathering" in Leadville, Colo. There are also some rather odd towns that may be worth a detour, like Liberal, Kan., which has proclaimed itself both "Gateway to the Land of Oz" and "Pancake Hub of the Universe." Or Niles, Ill., with its very own replica of the leaning Tower of Pisa.
Two books worth perusing are "The New Roadside America: A Modern Traveler's Guide to the Wild and Wonderful World of America's Tourist Attractions" by Mike Wilkins, Ken Smith and Doug Kirby (on the Web at www.roadsideamerica.com), and "Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America's Two-Lane Highways" by Jamie Jensen. On the Internet, log on to www.festivals.com for a fairly extensive list of festivals and events.
Q: We are an English couple living in Northern Virginia for three years. We have to keep coming up with good ideas for our visitors from the U.K. Our latest challenge is to find a few one-day bus tours for a visitor in her early seventies who is particularly interested in the Civil War. I have heard that Fairfax County sometimes puts on such tours. Can you help?
A: There are many day tours offered from the Washington area designed to appeal to tourists and residents alike.
The Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services (703-222-4664, www.co.fair fax.va.us), for example, offers an extensive and ambitious schedule of day tours. From May to July, it will conduct more than 60 motor-coach day tours to a variety of events and sites, including baseball games, the beach, plays, historic sites, gardens and museums. On July 4, for example, it will run a trip to view Battle of Gettysburg reenactments; the bus, which makes pickups at several Fairfax locations, leaves Fair Oaks Mall at 6 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $55.
The Smithsonian (202-357-3030, www.si.edu/tsa/rap) also conducts day tours, including two in June detailing the Confederate invasion. "Winchester to Chambersburg," scheduled for Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., departs from the Smithsonian Castle. The tour will visit various battle sites in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; cost, including lunch, is $65 for resident members and $87 for nonmembers. The second tour, "Advance to the Susquehanna," is scheduled for June 12 and focuses on the Confederate Army's occupation of Carlisle, Pa.; cost is $60 members, $80 nonmembers.
Gray Line Tours (1-800-862-1400, www.monumental.com/dc) also offers several day tours that might appeal to your visitor, including a trip to Gettysburg and a Monticello/Thomas Jefferson tour that includes a visit to Manassas Battlefield Park. During summer, the 10-hour Gettysburg tour departs Union Station at 8 a.m. every Monday and Thursday; cost is $50. The Monticello tour departs Union Station at 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; cost, including lunch, is $64.
Q: A group of eight Girl Scouts and four adults will be traveling to Japan for two weeks. We will be in Tokyo for four days and would like to take day trips to Mount Fuji, Kamakura and possibly Hiroshima. We will also be spending a week in Kiryu. We are contemplating whether to get rail passes. Is there a cost benefit?
A: Kamakura and adjacent Mount Fuji are very accessible from Tokyo, as is Kiryu. But Hiroshima, a five-hour trip by train from Tokyo, is not a day trip. To decide whether it's cost-effective to buy a rail pass, you first need to decide whether you will go to Hiroshima.
A Japan Rail Pass includes several of Tokyo's subway lines and the airport shuttle as well as most long-distance trains and bullet trains. Cost of the rail pass is about $240 for seven days, $380 for 14 days, and $480 for 21 days. Children ages 11 and under are half-price. There are also rail pass variations, such as a Japan Rail East Pass for $169 good for five days on 72 train lines. All rail passes must be purchased before traveling to Japan; you can buy them at select travel agents and through All Nippon Airways. Information: Japan Rail, 212-332-8686.
If you're going to Hiroshima, it will cost you more for that round-trip fare alone than for the rail pass. But if you're not going to Hiroshima, or any other destination that requires traveling on a bullet train, you'll save money by buying individual rail tickets. A spokeswoman for the Japan National Tourist Office explained that there are many different local rail companies operating around Tokyo that are not included within the Japan Rail Pass network.
For more information about traveling around Japan, contact the tourist office at 212-757-5640, www.jnto.go.jp.
Q: My daughter and I plan to visit Spain. I'm a lover of Lladro and would like to visit the factory. Can you tell me where it is and when tours are open?
Pearl River, N.Y.
A: All Lladro pieces are made just outside Valencia at the City of Porcelain, a huge complex measuring more than a million square feet, where 2,000 people are employed to create the porcelain collectibles. The complex comprises studios, laboratories, warehouses, office buildings and leisure and sports areas.
Tours are not open to the general public, but are conducted for members of the Lladro Society (1-800-634-9088, www.lladro.es), a group of collectors that numbers 100,000 members in the United States. Membership costs $45 a year and includes free visits to the Lladro Museum (212-838-9352) in Manhattan and other perks.
The society also arranges general-interest package tours to Spain that include tours of the Lladro factory. There are four trips planned during the rest of 1999. Prices, including air fare, start at $1,240; contact Conference Travel International, 1-800-527-4852.
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