Q Two friends and I are planning our first international trip to Germany and Italy. Is it cheaper to fly into Germany or Italy? Is it easy to take a train between the two countries? Do you have any B&B recommendations?
A It's usually cheaper to fly into Germany because more flights are offered from D.C. to cities there than to cities in Italy. For example, a round-trip nonstop flight to Munich in late spring is about $660, while the fare to Rome on a connecting flight is more than $1,000.
From Munich, it's not difficult to get to Rome by train. The 600-mile trip takes about 10 1/2 hours and costs $98 each way for a second-class ticket. Contact Rail Europe (877-257-2887, www.raileurope.com) for details.
For lodging, much depends on location and budget. A good source for inns throughout Europe is Karen Brown's Guides (www.karenbrown.com). The online version of Brown's Italy guidebook describes 204 properties, ranging from a farmhouse in San Filippo starting at about $52 a night to a Rome hotel with rooms overlooking the Trevi Fountain for about $286 a night. In Germany, 71 properties are online.
You can also contact the tourism bureaus for the cities you are visiting. The Munich Tourist Office, for example, offers an online booking system for hundreds of hotels and B&Bs (called garni); go to www.muenchen-tourist.de/englisch/index_e.htm. To find links to specific city tourism bureaus, contact the Germany National Tourist Office (212-661-7200, www.visits-to-germany.com) and the Italian Government Tourist Board (212-245-5618, www.italiantourism.com).
Also, if you're interested in visiting rural areas, good resources for farm stays and rustic inns in Italy include Agriturismo (fax 011-39-0575-616900, www.agriturismo.com) and Agritours (www.agritour.net). In Germany, contact the German Agricultural Society (www.landtourismus.de).
We will be attending a wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Our 10-year-old is fascinated by wildlife and science. Are there any nature-oriented day trips?
Elk Mills, Md.
I've been on several tours in Jamaica billed as nature-oriented, but most of the tourgoers were more interested in drinking rum punch than learning about the flora and fauna. Eco-tourism has a way to go on the island.
Your child might enjoy swimming at night with the phosphorescent plankton in Falmouth's Luminous Lagoon, snorkeling or taking an undersea boat ride at Montego Bay Marine Park or visiting Rocklands Bird Sanctuary and Feeding Station, about three miles from Montego Bay.
Tours Off the Beaten Path (876-382-6384, www.barrettadventures.com) can assemble customized nature excursions. Or you could take part in the Jamaica Tourist Board's "Meet the People" program in which you're matched up with Jamaica residents who share similar interests; for more info, call 800-233-4582 or check www.jamaicatravel.com.
My niece is getting married at West Point, N.Y., this summer. We'd like to stay a few extra days and have a family reunion. We're looking for a family-friendly, moderately-priced resort within reasonable driving distance. Any suggestions?
The Rocking Horse Ranch Resort (800-647-2624, www.rhranch.com) in Highland, N.Y., is about 30 miles north of West Point. It may cost more than you'd like, but it is a family-friendly resort with a children's program, three heated pools, horseback riding, a lake, water skiing, campfires, fishing, archery, etc. A four-day all-inclusive package in summer starts at $540 per adult, $250 for the first child ages 4-15 and $235 for other children. Children under 4 are free.
Other choices include Hudson Valley Resort & Spa (888-9HUDSON, www.hudsonvalleyresort.com) in Kerhonkson, about an hour northwest of West Point, which offers many activities, including golf, outdoor and indoor pools, tennis and horseback riding. All-inclusive summer rates start at $263 per night for a family of four with two children ages 5-12. A less expensive option is the historic Bear Mountain Inn at Bear Mountain State Park (845-786-2731, www.bearmountaininn.com), which is adjacent to West Point; room rates start at $99 a night and the park offers many outdoor activities.
A couple of readers have more suggestions for renting cars in England. Charlotte D. Jones of Washington said she uses ITS Car Rentals (800-521-0643, www.its-cars-hotels.com) and has "generally found their prices competitive and the service excellent." Jones advises renting a car with automatic transmission. "Even if you are used to a stick shift in America, concentration is required to drive on the 'wrong' side of the road without worrying about having to change gears," she said. "And if you've never driven a manual transmission, England is not the place to start learning." ITS car rental rates in England start at $45 a day, or $207 a week, plus taxes for a compact automatic.
Steve Campbell of Arlington recommends European Car Reservations (800-535-3303). "We have rented through them for at least five years, twice minimum each year. It has always offered the lowest prices, given good service and, as our agency, defended our interests in occasional billing disputes with the actual car rental firms." Rates for a compact car with automatic transmission start at about $237 a week, plus taxes.
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