Q: My parents would like to take a guided tour by train around the United States and need assistance with their luggage, transit to hotels, etc. Are there any tour agencies that specialize in train tours for seniors?
A: Several companies offer escorted rail tours in the United States, including:
* Rail America Tours (1-888-777-6605) offers tours in North America aboard Amtrak trains. Tours include a 12-day "Grand Canyons of North America" between Chicago and Albuquerque; a 14-day "America . . . From Coast to Coast" tour between St. Augustine, Fla., and Los Angeles; and a six-day "Cajun Country Jubilee" tour between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La. Cost for the coast-to-coast tour starts at about $2,000 per person based on double occupancy and includes side tours and most meals.
* Rail Travel Center (1-800-458-5394, www.railtvl.com) offers both fully escorted and independent rail tours in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Tours include a nine-day "National Parks of the Southwest" offered in May starting at $1,800 per person based on double occupancy and an eight-day "Sierra Madre Express/Copper Canyon" trip aboard private rail cars, with departures offered throughout the year and prices starting at $2,455 per person based on double occupancy.
* American Orient Express (1-888-759-3944, www.travelpower.com/aoe) offers luxury train tours throughout the United States and Canada aboard renovated vintage rail cars. Itineraries include "Antebellum South" between Washington and New Orleans and "The Great Transcontinental" between Washington and Los Angeles. All meals and tours are included. Cost for the nine-night transcontinental tour starts at $3,990 per person based on double occupancy.
Q: My fiancee and I would like to get married in May in Scotland. Where can I go for information on legalities and how to plan an overseas wedding?
A: It's a good thing you've chosen Scotland as your preferred wedding site, because it's the only place in the United Kingdom that doesn't have pre-wedding residency rules. The sole requirement is that at least one member of the couple visit the registrar in the district where the marriage will take place during the seven-day period leading up to the wedding date. You also have to pay fees and fill out paperwork, but the requirements are no more stringent than in any other jurisdiction.
The most famous, and arguably the tackiest, place to get married in Scotland is Gretna Green in Dumfriesshire. The town, Scotland's equivalent of Las Vegas for weddings, became a popular wedding site back in 1754 when England passed a law requiring that anyone under age 21 get parental consent before marrying. The law did not apply to Scotland, which to this day allows teenagers as young as 16 to marry without parental consent. Gretna Green, the first village on the Scottish side of the English border conveniently situated on the main road from London, quickly became the place to tie the knot for those in a hurry. In 1996, more than 4,000 weddings were performed there.
For more information about Scotland's marriage requirements, call 011-44-131-314-4447 or visit http://wood.ccta.gov.uk/grosweb/grosweb.nsf/pages/faq. For information about companies that provide wedding-related services, such as cakes, limousines, etc., log on to www.wedding-services.demon.co.uk.
Q: I'm going to Berlin in the spring. Could you please provide information on highlights of the "new" Berlin in light of its becoming the capital after reunification?
Glenda C. Booth
A: The new Berlin has shed all vestiges of the dreary Cold War and embraced unbridled capitalism. New construction has changed the face of the city. The city's center has basically been rebuilt as tens of billions have poured in for new office buildings, hotels, restaurants, etc., in anticipation of moving the capital from Bonn to Berlin. Many historic buildings and areas are also undergoing major renovations. The Reichstag, for example, built in the late 1800s as the former seat of the German parliament, will once again house the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, after extensive renovations are completed later this year. The Potsdamer Platz, once Berlin's busiest square, has become Europe's biggest construction site, as an entire neighborhood, with apartments, hotels, movie theaters, restaurants and even a casino, is being built.
You could spend days just walking the central district, called the "Mitte" or middle, and taking in the changes. Many of the new buildings have been designed by famous architects, including I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano. One of the most controversial is the ultramodern Debis Haus at Potsdamer Platz, designed by Piano.
There are also 170 museums and galleries throughout Berlin, including the New National Gallery, which houses 20th-century art and is offering several special exhibits this year showcasing the works of American minimalist Keith Sonnier and cinema/video artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila.
For more information, contact the German National Tourist Office, 212-661-7200, www.germany-tourism.de. Also, The Post's Gary Lee wrote a comprehensive article detailing the new Berlin in the Travel section of March 28, 1999. The article, which details attractions, hotels and restaurants, can be accessed through the Travel section's index at www.washingtonpost.com.
Michael E. Tigar of Annapolis disagrees with an assertion I made in the Dec. 26 Travel Q&A that France isn't all that vegetarian-friendly. "No so, really," Tigar said. "First learn a few French phrases. Try translating, 'I have a strict diet and cannot eat meat (or milk products, or whatever),' or 'Can you please tell me, is there meat in this?' Most times, you will get a sympathetic and helpful response." Tigar recommends visiting health food stores (fairly common in Paris) and asking about vegetarian restaurants. "In Paris, I have found that Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Moroccan and Tunisian restaurants give the most non-meat choices." He also points out that the European Union requires that the ingredients of all packaged foods be clearly stated in four languages, including English, which is "quite helpful for anyone who must restrict food intake." "In sum, if it has to do with food, France will celebrate it and there will be places where it is done well."
Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost .com), fax (202-334-1069) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071).