NYC HOLIDAY WINDOWS 101

In New York City, where department stores' holiday window decorations are as cherished as the latest evening gowns are in Paris, window shopping is almost worth a trip all its own. Here's a quick how-to guide. This tour, best taken at dusk when the windows are illuminated, will take about two hours.

Start at Barneys New York (on Madison Avenue between 60th and 61st streets, three blocks from the Lexington subway line). This year the store is devoting its windows to five icons of the past thousand years. The choices, to be depicted in seven-foot images: Cleopatra (wrong millennium, but never mind), Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, James Brown and a computer.

From there, bundle up and head downtown along Fifth Avenue. The window show at Tiffany & Co. (corner of Fifth and 57th) consists of five imperial gardens carved in miniature sculptures and set in different seasons.

The windows at Saks Fifth Avenue, eight blocks south (between 50th and 49th), illustrate the tale of a precocious New York girl who learns the meaning of the holiday spirit from her aunt, none other than Santa's sister. It's an interpretation of "Auntie Claus," a new book by Elise Primavera (Silver Whistle).

A 10-minute stroll farther downtown, Lord & Taylor (Fifth between 38th and 39th streets) has been described by a publicist as "the grande dame of Christmas window art." The store's window exhibit features animated figures of children from different corners of the world, clad in native garb and expressing their single heartfelt wish for the future.

From there, head across town to Macy's (34th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues), whose windows are adorned with animated scenes from the touching holiday movie "Miracle on 34th Street."

Lord & Taylor's and Macy's displays were unveiled last week; others go up this week.

--Gary Lee

Hotel rooms are tight, but the following have some availability, particularly after Dec. 12: On the Ave (Broadway at 77th Street, 212-362-1100; doubles $145 to $165) and, under the same management, Habitat Hotel (130 E. 57th St., 212-753-8841), a budget oasis in a sea of luxe. Doubles, some with shared baths, start at $105. Also check www. hoteldiscounts.com, which claims to have rooms when others are sold out. For a list of holiday events, including Hanukah and Kwanzaa: 212-484-1222, www.nycvisit.com.

For a 40th Birthday Present, SE Asia

WHAT'S THE DEAL?

China Airlines is celebrating its 40th birthday by offering anyone born in 1959 huge savings on flights to Southeast Asia. Until Nov. 30, travelers can fly round trip to Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other places for $195 economy, $959 "dynasty" and $1,959 first class. (Add about $50 in taxes and fees.) But there are catches. First, you must make a reservation through a travel agent or China Airlines in Washington, then go to the office at 1730 K St. NW to pick up the ticket and verify, with a passport, your date of birth. Second, flights leave from New York's JFK airport. The United shuttle from Dulles starts at $110 round trip, so the overall cost jumps to about $350. But with flights to Hong Kong, for example, costing $1,336 and up in coach, the savings far outweigh the inconveniences. 1-800-227-5118 or 202-833-1760.

Swisspak has put together a week-long ski package to Austria for a price more on par with skiing out West than at one of Europe's premier winter spots. The $726 deal includes: round-trip Swissair flight from Dulles to Munich via Zurich; three-hour transfer to the ski resort; seven nights at a 17-room chalet guest house; and daily breakfast. (Travel is Jan. 8-Feb. 12, March 11-31.) The guest house is a 10-minute walk to cable cars, which transport skiers to 65 lifts and 100 miles of runs, and an easy stroll to downtown amenities. The package does not include a ski pass, which costs $162 for six days. 1-800-688-7947.--Andrea Sachs

TRAVEL TIP 122

Battery Power

PROBLEM: The disk battery in your travel alarm clock keeps running down.

SOLUTION: Turn the battery over in its receptacle, storing it upside-down so it doesn't draw current, advises the ingenious Lawrence D. Powers of Reston. "When I arrive at my destination, I reverse the battery, set the clock, and I'm in business. At the end of my trip I again reverse the battery and put the clock away until next time. I've had a single battery last several years this way."

BONUS: Works for cameras, too.

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TO DO

HOME NEXT WEEK?

"Manifest Destiny," a geo-political satire, Tuesday, National Museum of American History, 202-786-2409.

THE REGION

Mount Vernon: Dec. 18, Reenactment of George Washington's funeral, 703-780-2000, www.gwash- ington1999.org. Poor George, 200 years ago he died of a sore throat. Commemorate his final moments, from wake to casket-carrying procession.

Baltimore: Dec. 4, Night of 100 Elvises, 1-888-494- 9558, www.nightof100elvises.com. More Elvis sightings than you can shake a hip at, when tribute artists sing praise to the King.

THE NATION

Dayton, Ohio: Until Jan. 2, In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West, 937-0223-5277, www.daytonartinstitute.org. See the glorious West through the lenses of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and, of course, calendar-boy Adams.

Tucson: Dec. 31-Jan. 9, First Peoples' World Fair & Pow Wow, 520-622-4900, www.usaindianinfo.org. More than 100 tribal nations ring in the new century with a Sun Rise Blessing, Gourd Dance and more.

THE WORLD

Nice, France: Dec. 26, Bain de Noel, 410-286-8310. Not shy about going topless--or bottomless? Skinny- dip in the Mediterranean the day after Christmas.

The Hague: Jan. 1, New Year's Polar Bear Dive, 1-888- 464-6552, www.goholland.com. Swim in the North Sea, then shake off hypothermia with Dutch pea soup.

Send news about events, festivals and other things To Do by e-mail to travcal@washpost.com.

SITE OF THE WEEK

For brief, opinionated profiles of Caribbean islands, www.rumreggae.com

This site offers nothing but the pithy, pitiless intros of Jonathan Runge's Rum & Reggae Caribbean 2000 guidebook, but that's plenty. Unlike the effusive love notes of most travel writers, Runge is heartless and clear-eyed, rating each island (the more Edvard Munch "Scream" icons, the worse it is). If you're headed islandward, start here, then look elsewhere for details. (Click into Chapter Highlights; the rest of the site is under construction.)