Q I am traveling in Japan and tried to send a gift containing tea and snacks home to my family in America. When I went to the post office I was informed that due to the Bioterrorism Act, I must have a confirmation from the FDA before I can send any postal item containing food. Isn't there some exception for people who only want to send pre-packaged gifts to their family?
A The Bioterrorism Act requires that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration be given advance notice of food shipments imported to the United States as of Dec. 12, 2003. If you read the letter of the law, all food gifts mailed to the United States are covered, but an FDA spokesman indicated that gifts can be mailed without fear of reprisal.
Domenic J. Veneziano, a spokesman for the agency, said in an e-mail that your situation "falls under a special FDA category of a food that is imported for non-business purposes using a non-commercial shipper.
"In this case, even if the required prior notice information has not been provided, FDA and the CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] typically will not take regulatory action unless they feel that the shipment poses a significant health risk," he said.
Veneziano also noted, however, that this leeway applies only to food shipped between two individuals. "If instead the gift was purchased at a store and shipped by the store, the prior notice requirements would be enforced even if the item was for personal use," he said.
The law does provide some clear exceptions to the prior-notice requirement, including food that is prepared by an individual in his home and then shipped as a personal gift to someone in the United States, and food that is carried in a person's luggage for personal use.
For more information on the new regulations: 800-216-7331, www.access.fda.gov.
My wife and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. I have often dreamed of flying to somewhere over the international date line, then flying back to Hawaii in time to celebrate it again. Are you aware of any destination that would make this possible and isn't cost prohibitive?
A couple of flights would allow you to celebrate on one side of the dateline and then fly back to Honolulu to celebrate again on the same day. But it'll cost you a few thousand.
Air New Zealand flies nonstop between Honolulu and Auckland. Its Flight 10 leaves Auckland at 12:55 p.m. and arrives a day earlier in Hawaii at 10:30 p.m., so if the flight is late, you may not satisfy your dream. The price is about $1,340 round trip.
Continental flies nonstop between Honolulu and Guam. The flight departs Guam at 6 a.m., and you'd arrive in Hawaii at 5:05 p.m. a day earlier. The round-trip flight costs about $1,200 per person.
Another idea is to take a cruise that crosses the dateline. The Pacific Princess, for example, offers a 15-day South Pacific islands cruise that starts in Sydney and ends in Tahiti, crossing the dateline on Day 8. But, again, it's not cheap. Expect to pay about $2,000 per person double for an inside cabin, plus airfare. Info: 800-PRINCESS, www.princess.com.
My wife and I and another couple are planning a river barge trip, probably on the Saone and Rhone rivers in France, next summer. I've heard that some of the rivers are low and barge trips cannot be completed. Do you have any information?
River levels were quite low throughout Europe last year, although the Saone and the Rhone were not impacted as badly as the Danube, the Rhine, the Elbe and the Sava rivers. Water levels on the Rhine, for example, were the lowest since records began being kept in 1880. This summer was dry again, especially in July, but winter rains and heavy snowfall last winter helped ease the problem.
Alexandre Blanc, spokesman for the Voies Navigables de France, the French navigable waterways authority, said recent dry summers have affected smaller canals in France. But the Rhone and the Saone have not been affected, he said, because "both are very large and deep rivers." For more details on the state of France's waterways: www.vnf.fr.
George Wead of Bridgewater, Va., has another Web site for locating concert tickets in Rome (Travel Q&A, Sept. 19). "Readers may be interested in PromArt (www.promart.it), which I find the best source of information on classical music and opera events across Italy," he said. "The Web site provides a regularly updated calendar, the events (often including performers and works) listed by province and city along with venues, times, sponsoring organizations and even genres." The site's in Italian, but non-Italian speakers can plug the Web site into www.google.com and click "translate this page."
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