Candace Y. A. Montague of Ellicott City is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.
THE TRIP: A day trip to the Harlem Book Fair on Amtrak.
WHO WENT: I'm a wife, mother, graduate student and full-time teacher. Puuuleeeze. I needed some solitary confinement.
WHEN: July 2005
WHY: For the love of literature. I like discovering authors when they're up and coming. They seem more hungry and produce a better product in the beginning of their careers.
HOW LONG: 17 hours, 25 minutes, 6 seconds.
IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . an attractive new author flirted with me and let me take his picture. He even signed my book "Dear Candace, Thanks for last night." C'mon, we old married ladies will take a cheap thrill whenever we can get it.
TO AVOID LOOKING LIKE A TOURIST, I . . . studied the subway map online a week before I went. I was cruisin' like a real New Yorker. I even gave some real tourists directions. Couldn't blow my cover.
FAVORITE MEAL: The soul food at Manna's Restaurant on Malcolm X Boulevard. Green beans, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken -- yummy! I was looking for Grandma to be back in the kitchen when I was done. But while the food was awesome, the restaurant was extremely crowded. I took a carryout plate and ate at a bus stop.
COOLEST ATTRACTION: Major book publishers were present and set up with tents, including Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Time-Warner and Random House. Even Book TV was there.
THINGS I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Street vendors selling bootleg copies of CDs and DVDs. How may times does a woman need to sit through a bad copy of a movie with popcorn crunching and commentary in the background?
THING I WISH I'D BROUGHT: Earplugs. Once the music and poets get started on the stages, your hearing is done for.
CHEAPEST THRILL: If you're a bookworm like me, it's the coolest thing ever to meet the authors and shake their hands. I got to meet Ian Smith, Gordon Parks and Walter Mosley.
BIGGEST SPLURGE: I could have bought a beautiful handmade quilt for $200. But since this was not a shopping spree and I am a teacher, I moved on.
BIGGEST CULTURE SHOCK: Just because it's the Harlem Book Fair doesn't mean it's restricted to people who have been "kissed by the sun." There were quite a few white and Asian guests there (both as patrons and sellers).
MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: I got lost. There were road closures and one-way streets, and no one looked friendly enough to ask for directions. Did I mention this happened in Baltimore, when I was on the way home from Penn Station?
FAVORITE SOUVENIR: A free Book TV tote bag. Teachers love freebies (compensation for our low wages).
NEXT YEAR I MIGHT WANT TO . . . study a map of Baltimore.
Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report, along with a photo from the trip, on the last Sunday of the month. To enter, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a complete list, go to www.washingtonpost.com/vacationinlights) and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; fax it to 202- 912-3609; or e-mail email@example.com. Entries chosen for publication will receive a Canon PowerShot A-95 digital camera or equivalent. Entries will be chosen on the basis of humor, originality and usefulness; are subject to editing for space and clarity; and become property of The Post, which may edit, publish, distribute or republish them in any form. Employees of The Post and their immediate families are not eligible. Submissions and photographs cannot be returned. No purchase necessary.