Talk about Travel

Jun 27, 2011

Have a travel-related question, comment, suspicion, warning, gripe, sad tale or happy ending? The Post Travel section's editors and writers are at your service.

A happy Monday to everyone. Are you as excited about the upcoming holiday weekend as I am? Any fun plans you want to brag about?

In this week's section, we took you to Bali to shop, Traverse City to eat cherries and northern Spain to drink with Jason Wilson. In the spirit (hehe) of Jason's piece, tell us about your favorite bar you've come across in your travels. Best answer gets the prize. Let's get going!

Hi folks! Submitting early as I can't be here during the chat. I'll be going to a conference at Google in mid-September, staying in Santa Clara. It's a Tuesday-Wednesday thing and I am going to extend my stay a couple days for some vacation. I've never been out there and am looking for sightseeing ideas. However, I'm guessing my options will be somewhat limited as I am not planning to rent a car if at all possible (I admit to being really intimidated by the idea of driving anywhere in Cali, especially the freeways). Suggestions?

Yeek! California without a car! Too bad you're not going to L.A., as we had a story recently about getting around there by bus. But Santa Clara's another story. And I don't believe we've done one on that. Nevertheless, an intrepid traveler will find his/her way around even without a car. As it happens, there is something called the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which runs buses and light rail service in and between Santa Clara, San Jose and Milpitas, so you should be able to get around. However, I have no firsthand experience with this public transport, so let's ask the chatters what they know about it. As for sightseeing, in Santa Clara, go see the mission, which is on the grounds of Santa Clara U. If you're into amusement parks, Santa Clara is also home to California's Great America. But you might better spend your time heading over to San Jose, which is a more happening place. There, of course, you must see the Winchester Mystery House, the crazy house with doors and staircases that lead to nowhere, and the flea market. In nearby Milpitas is the Great Mall of the Bay Area if you're into shopping. What else, folks? Let's hear your ideas, on sightseeing and transportation.

We are travelng to Quito Ecuador, The Galapogos Islands, Machu Pichu, and Lima Peru in July. I was wondering what to expect in terms of weather-temperatures, and moisture?

The weather in Quito varies VERY little through the year. In July (as in most months), average high is upper 60s and average low upper 40s; July is the driest month there, with less than an inch average precip.

Lima's average high in July is 67 and low is 60, with next to no rainfall.

It's a little warmer in the Galapagos: lows around 70 and highs in the upper 70s, and dry.

 

I just read the article about the 95 y/o woman in an adult diaper - I guess TSA is right that terrorists will go to any lengths to do their deeds, but how far do we go in the chase to prevent EVERYTHING that they could possibly ever manage to do? Between TSA, and the airlines charging for everything they can think of, I just don't want to travel to further buy in to this craziness.

I've been following the story, too. Maybe we should stop asking, "Can it get any worse?" because the answer is always, "Yes, it can." Unfortunately, you can't avoid the TSA by driving or taking the train. The agency has a program called VIPR that extends to bus terminals, train stations and other public areas. Maybe there's a column there ...

When I was interning in Paris, there was this neat little bar not too far from our housing called Bugsy's - it was owned by an Australian and a Nigerian, if I recall correctly, and the whole thing was done up in the style of a Prohibition-era speakeasy. The menu was all American food, and all the drinks were named after gangsters. It was an absolute blast, especially since it was in a really nice part of Paris, right next door to the ministry of interior and down the street from some of the more expensive shops in town!

Along with my 2 best friends from college, I turn 30 this year. We'd like to do some sort of fun trip in late fall. We can't venture too far from home (NYC, Albany NY, and Philly/DC) and can only swing a weekend. And to further complicate matters, I'll be in my 2nd trimester and won't be drinking or partying too heavily. We like the outdoors and being active, but also enjoy being lazy - and love eating well! Budget is probably under a thousand for the weekend. Any ideas?

Congrats on the birthday and the baby! Since you mentioned Albany, I'm going to suggest nearby Catskill, NY, where I recently did an Impulsive Traveler. It's absolutely gorgeous there, and you can visit the homes of two of the Hudson River School painters, Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. You can also check out some of the sites on the Hudson River School Art Trail, not all of which will require intensive hiking if that's too much for you. It's just a pretty place to drive around too.

Talk to the kind folks at the Post Cottage, where I stayed. I bet they could arrange something lovely for you. (Their food is fantastic too!)

catskill ny

Two questions for Mr. Wilson, who wrote about bars in Spain in Sunday's Travel section: One, how should American travelers, who hardly ever eat dinner after 6 or 7 PM, adjust to the late dinner hours in Europe, especially in Spain? Two, is the cider that is offered to consumers in Asturia the same kind as the sparking cider in bottles? Thanks. In addition, kudos to the other article writers who wrote about shopping in Bali and the Bartlett Pear Inn.

Jason says:

I think you just have to embrace the late dinner hours and make them work for you. Personally, I love eating late when I travel, especially in Europe since I'm already sort of jetlagged and out of whack upon arrival anyway. If one of the main reasons you travel is to eat, you'll probably want to go all in for lunch anyway, which in Spain is from 2-4 pm. Another word of advice might be, a nap between the hours of, say, 6-9 pm. That way, you'll awaken refreshed and not dragging from your last late night out. And you'll be ready to go just about when the tapas bars are filling up with people taking pre-dinner snacks and drinks.

As for the cider, Asturian cider is much different than our domestic ciders (and by cider, I mean cider as an alcoholic beverage to begin with). Asturian cider is not carbonated, which is why the waiters pour it from such a long distance, to agitate the carbonic gases. I've written about cider in my column a couple of times: here and here.

 

My fiancee and I are looking for a place to take a 10-14 day honeymoon in October. We would be leaving out of Houston and were hoping for a direct flight somewhere. Our problem is that our budget is only about $3000, which between airfare and hotel stays for that many nights, is limiting our options. We don't want to do a resort or all-inclusive because we want to be able to move around the area we choose nor do we want to just lay on a beach for all that time. We have been thinking Costa Rice or El Salvador, but do you have any other suggestions in Central America for places that might fit our budget and have enough to do for almost 2 weeks of exploring? We are also open to a cruise with perhaps a few days on either end for exploring the destination port. Thank you!!

The great thing about Central America is that it you can get some decent fares for flights there. Also, it's usually super cheap once you get there. Costa Rica might be the exception because it is so touristy. But El Salvador won't be expensive. A couple of other countries to consider: Guatemala and Honduras. In Guatemala you can go to Antigua, a beautiful little colonial town, then take the bus to Lago Atitlan, which Aldous Huxley called the most beautiful lake in the world. Then you can take a plane to see the ruins at Tikal. I just wrote about Honduras. I had a great time there. There are Mayan ruins at Copan and there's the Lenca Trail, a series of tiny colonial towns. You can also do snorkeling and scuba diving on the Bay Islands. But best of all, I  rented a private island there for just $115 a night. Now that would make a great honeymoon. 

Someone asked last week about a trip to Niagara Falls for his/her anniversary. We LOVED our trip 6 years ago, a side trip from Toronto. A few thoughts:

* Try the icewine: Niagara is near a host of wineries: some featuring icewine as Canada's "signature" wine; others feature more traditional reds and whites. We enjoyed the Jackson-Triggs tour as it featured not only the winery but the sustainability elements the business had built into its then-new facility -- the back wall is all glass, overlooking the vineyards.

* Several remarkable botanical gardens, nature walks, etc. in the area as well as a butterfly conservatory

* Niagara on the Lake already was recommended and we second that, as well as the very pretty drives in the area. Much more relaxing to our tastes than the very boardwalk/Atlantic City feel of the immediate Falls area itself

* Historical sites: Maybe the 'only caveat emptor' we'd suggest. We visited a few "historic" forts near Toronto and were disappointed. Having been to Smithsonian/U.S. National Park Service sites, we found the Fort recreations really poor -- polyester tablecloths in scene re-creations, very poor signage, etc. So, depending on your bent, you might lower your expectations for these sorts of sites. Final thought: the date the couple listed (9/10) is sure to be marked with a lot of ceremonies in the States and perhaps in Ontario as well. So, you might want to think about whether you want to engage that or disengage from it for your anniversary trip. And also keep it in mind just in terms of potentially tighter security measures. Happy anniversary, and many more!

Thanks!

Two adult females would like to get away to a local beach for the holiday weekend and spend one or two nights in Ocean City, Rehoboth, or any other beach within a 2-2.5 hr drive of DC/MD. Checked with VRBO and Homeaway owners and most rent for one week stretches and are full for weekend. Still waiting to hear back from a couple. Hotels at OC and Rehoboth all seem to be booked but there may be other places or locations nearby that I haven't looked or considered. Any suggestions? Or do we make it a one day beach getaway? Or is there another less popular beach you'd suggest? Thanks so much for your advice, it's always helpful!

I'm in Ocean City right now, and it seems as if the hotels and condos are fairly well  booked - many people already here for the holiday week. Have you tried hotels in West Ocean City? There is a Comfort Inn just across the Route 50  bridge. And go to the tourist site for a list of all the hotels in town. 

I was flying out of National Airport early last Tuesday morning, and noticed (how could I not?) that our security line was taking a particularly long time. It seems that the TSA officer checking ID's had taken it upon himself to be "thorough." I am not exaggerating when I say that he was taking 20 to 30 seconds per passenger to check their ID and boarding pass. I saw him ask one passenger for a second ID because he didn't like the picture on the first one, and asked another passenger to recite her birthdate while he was holding her drivers license. Every time someone approached his dais he pointedly told them to stand behind the line while he - slowly - looked at their documents. Was this an organized work slowdown or did this guy just get up that morning and decide it would be fun to screw with the passengers?

Maybe he was just out of training!

One summer I house-sat for a friend living in Dalston (Hackney) London. His block was standard English types, but the rest of the neighborhood was from all over the world. The local pub was more like an African drinks place than anything you'd expect in Jolly Old England...with palm wine and such along with the beer.

I am about to fulfill my dream of travelling around South America for 3 months. I will be visiting Argentina, chile and Bolivia and i'm extremely excited. Can anyone tell me how important it is to be able to speak Spanish? And any advice on doing a spanish course, anyone might have?

I have not been to Argentina, Chile or Bolivia but I have traveled to other South American countries. I find that you will always find English speakers in the major cities, especially at the hotels and restaurants. The more rural or remote the town, the less likely you will be to find English speakers. Obviously it would help to know Spanish, but I think you will be able to get around without it. In fact, the last time I was in Colombia, I met some backpackers who knew no Spanish at all, and they seemed to be managing okay. I'd recommend carrying around a Spanish phrasebook. As for Spanish courses, I don't know any that I can recommend down there. I'll throw that one out to the chatters. Anyone know of a good language school in South America?

What worked for us was to have a large breakfast (included in the room rate) and take a roll and some fruit from the breakfast buffet with us. That meant we could do lunch later and dinner later. Going on the early side (by Spanish standards) meant we could always get a table, too.

I just dealt with it by grazing throughout the day. And by "grazing" I mean eating multiple lunches and multiple dinners. But that's just me. ;-)

The most intriguing bar I've been to is in Lesotho - the mountain kingdom completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. First, getting to Lesotho is no easy feat. The Sani Pass climbs from South Africa through the Drakensburg Mountains for about 9 km. After ascending the knuckle-whitening, dirt road with tons of switchbacks and passing through passport control into Lesotho (which should only be undertaken in a 4X4 with an experienced guide/driver), you arrive at a small village with a backpacker's lodge - the Sani Top Chalet. I immediately dashed to their pub - known as the highest in Africa - for a local beer to settle my nerves. Whew!

I'm on a post-vacation let down. We had a great but active vacation. Now I'm looking forward to quiet and relaxing week in the Fall. We have a timeshare week that has been space-banked, and we'd like to use it somewhere within driving distance. We love beaches but might be interested in some day hikes too. Mountains? Where would you go for a timeshare exchange within 6-8 hours? Please don't send me to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head!

There are timeshares on Bryce Mountain in Basye, Va., a very pretty area (not the beach!). Don't know anything about the accommodations firsthand, though. Chatters?

Several years ago, I was in Barcelona and had been wandering around the city all day and was absolutely exhausted and stopped in a bar off Las Ramblas. I asked to see a drink menu and the bartender told me there was no menu, but to tell him what I liked and he would mix me something up. I ended up sipping a fantastic rum punch. The thing was, the whole time I was there the bar felt REALLY familiar, and finally, I asked about the history of the bar. Turns out, the bar was started by an Cuban immigrant who had previously worked at La Floriditia, a bar made famous by Hemingway that I had frequented when I was in Havana (legally). I told the bartender this and he insisted I meet the owner, who was coming in later. The owner was the daughter of the bars founder, and she had never been to Havana, so I spent hours telling her about the city and the bar her father had worked at, all while enjoying excellently crafted cocktails. It was a great experience because I was able to share more than just drinks. For all Barcelona travellers: stop in Cocktail Bar Boadas!

I have two great Bali Shopping memories. 1. My sister and I fell in love with the art of artist named Lumpur who had his work on a gallery right on the main street in Ubud. He ended up taking us to his house way out in the country to see more of his work and we met his wife and children. He pulled painting after painting out for us to look at. We ended up buying 3 of his paintings, my sister bought a huge, 10 feet by 5 feet painting of whimsical horses with balinese flowers and I bought a gigantic red rooster that now hangs in my den. Every day I look at it and think about what a wonderful trip it was and how neat it was to meet Lumpur. 2. John Hardy- I had met John Hardy the jewelry designer, and his wife years ago at a local jewelry store. He mentioned, if you're ever in Bali, stop by and come see us and the factory. Well, we took him at his word. Unfortunately, he had sold the company about a year before we made it to Bali. But we still made arrangements to go to the John Hardy factory. The shop at the factory was built over the rice paddies and made of sustainable bamboo which curved and swooped, and was a magnificent example of green building. We had a delicious lunch outdoors of some dish wrapped up in banana leaves with John Hardy executives including some of the designers, ate local fruit. We also toured the factory and saw how many people it takes to make the intricate jewelry and how long it takes. It was incredibly fascinating. It was the other highlight of our trip to Bali.

Sounds like a truly fabulous trip!

Is October too wet and rainy to have a nice time in Paris?

Meteorologist Yonan reporting for duty. First of all, it's NEVER TOO WET AND RAINY TO HAVE A NICE TIME IN PARIS. That is, Paris is too gorgeous and amazing a little (or a lot of) rain isn't going to spoil anything.

In October, highs will be around 60, lows in the 40s. It's not the rainiest month (that would be August, with average 2.5 inches for the month), but it's not the driest, either (that would be March, with 1.4). October has 2 inches average rainfall. I wouldn't sweat it.

I just flew back from Grand Rapids, Michigan this weekend with my twin 8 month olds. As veterans of many flight delays, my husband and I bring enough formula and baby food along as if we were going to be on the road 24 hours (overkill maybe, but I don't ever want to run out of food with them until they have enough teeth to be able to eat out of vending machines.) I was told that because I had so many liquids that would go bad if they opened them, I had to be patted down to be allowed on the plane. Because I know the rule that if I want on the plane I have to do what TSA says, and because it doesn't really bother me, I consented to the pat down and we went on to make our plane. But my question is - is there somewhere where travelers can report STRANGE requests by TSA so that the agency knows what is going on? The lady two people behind me had the same problem, only she had what looked like 5 kids under 10 (and two under two) so coordinating the kids during her pat down was more complicated. If I could see a logical connection between baby formula in sealed-by-Similac containers and something I might be carrying on my person, I wouldn't be asking the question. I just don't understand the connection between the two! Or is this something normal that we've just not run into in our multiple flights over the past three months (since we started taking the babies in airplanes?)

That is a little unusual. You could try to contact the TSA through its website. Here's a useful page, along with a few frequently-asked questions. But in my own experience dealing with travelers who have questions for the TSA, these queries can take a long time to answer, and some are never addressed. I guess the agency is too busy protecting us from jihadists who fly.

I lived in Salvador, Brazil for a few months in college. The best bars there just look like fruit stands. You may have tried caipirinhas, but you can put any sort of fruit in them, and in Brazil there are more kinds of fruit than I ever knew existed. Even better if it's on the beach!

No question, it was the Brazen Head Inn in Dublin at 8 Lower Bridge Street, where I first drank and slept back in 1970. Today, the place (which, no kidding, dates from the 12th Century) is a major tourist trap, but back then it was a combination B&B and residential hotel, with most of the residents being old age pensioners. This was when drinking hours in Dublin were much more severely limited--pubs had to close for "Holy Hour" in the afternoon and stop serving at all around 10 p.m. Ahhh...but the Head, as regulars called it, had a hotel license, so residents could drink and gab as long as the owner, Mrs. Mary Cooney, was willing to stay up. And many nights, that was very late, indeed. I was 22 and, to this day, have never had a better group of drinking companions, although most were about 50 years my senior.

Other than Monticello, wineries and maybe walking around UVA, any other recommendations for two days in Charlottesville? Thanks!

Well, you could definitely spend two days doing those things, but I hear ya. If you're not tired of presidential homes, check out James Monroe's Ash-Lawn Highland, which I recently heard deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick rave about. Go pick fruit at Carter Mountain Orchard -- and try their donuts. Walk around the downtown mall. Try some cider.

I loved Jason's article on bars in Spain. We were just in Basque country last year and while I never intend to go to the same vacation spot the following year, his article has got me itching to go back and see more. My favorite bar in the world is Quimet y Quimet in Barcelona, a standing-only cubby hole of a place that pours delicious wines and beer and serves jewel-like montaditos made with Spain's beautiful tradition of preserved seafood. Oh to go back!

I've been there! Fantastic.

Is in Dubrovnik, Croatia. All you see is a wooden sign for "Cold Drinks." You walk through a hole in the city walls and there is a bar right over the ocean. Watching the sunset there was the best part of my vacation.

I'll be travelling to Turkey in September for vacation. As I understand the visa requirements an American can buy a 90-day tourist visa at the "port of entry". I'll be flying into Istanbul's airport with a connection to Dalaman, Turkey. When I deplane in Istanbul is the place to buy a visa readily identifiable? I just want to make sure I know what I'm doing when I land there. Thanks!

Yes, it's very easy. You get off the plane and it is very clear where you have to go to buy your visa. I've done it many times. Never had a problem. Have no fear! Enjoy. It's an amazing country.

I'd like to give newlyweds who are honeymooning at the Inn at Perry Cabin a gift certificate for something to do in the area, or for a restaurant. Any suggestions?

You could give them a gift certificate to the spa at the inn, if they like that sort of thing, or even to the inn's restaurant, which I think is quite nice. But let's throw this out to the chatters for more ideas.

Flora-bama. The (in)famous redneck - er, Southern heritage - bar on the Florida-Alabama line. Yes, many have been there, and many wish they hadn't. My first time in the Floribama was when I was 17. I was on a weekend trip to the beach with classmates before graduating from highschool. How did I make it in you ask? First, it is best to approach from the beach and not drive up. Well, there was no glass in the windows - at the time at least - only shutters that were flung open. After being turned away by the guy at the door, I just leaped through an open window. Please don't tell my parents; they really trusted me back then....

I was in Cuba (legally) over 4th of July some years back. I felt a little un-American being down there, but decided to head out to a local bar to celebrate with others on the trip. I asked the bellhop for directions to a local bar, and he told us where to go. We walked in, and there were mostly locals around - must be a good place, right? I'd always heard that Cubans don't like Americans, but everyone there was friendly to us foreigners. (My spanish certainly didn't hurt that.) The band leader came around to the few foreigners that were there and asked where everyone was from. One group was from Norway; one group was from Canada. When they got to me, I said that we were from America. Everyone in the bar stood up and clapped. The bartender brought a bottle of rum over, opened it and started pouring shots. Locals came to take their pictures with us. The band leader went back on stage and said, "For my American friends, this song is for you on the 4th of July." He then started playing "Happy Birthday." Everyone treated us like family. Our money was no good, and we got a tour of the city the next day from some of our new friends. Just goes to show that liquor diplomacy can build a lot of bridges.

Ugh, flying just seems to get more and more annoying and disheartening. In the past 1 1/2 weeks: 1) I arrived at San Francisco Airport at 7:30 am to find a chaotic scene at the United area. Horrendously long check-in lines and a security line that extended past the ropes (necessitating lots of "is this the security line?" conversations). Even the premier check-in area was understaffed, and I shudder to think how long it would've taken me to go through the regular check-in. 2) My mom missed a connecting flight in Dallas after her departure gate was changed 3 times; she didn't hear the last change and had to spend the night. Her gate was changed at least once the next morning. 3) My partner's coworker missed her flight at Dulles because of long check-in and security lines - even though she'd arrived with more time to spare than usual. Then she got hit by United's computer crash. With most of this, however, it seems tough for an individual traveler to take any action. We get rebooked, we fill out surveys, we perhaps complain, but it seems difficult and useless to try to take any action beyond that. Any thoughts?

United just merged with Continental to form the number-one airline. It has no real reason to provide better service, since it has a de facto monopoly at many airports. My personal belief is that this will continue to get worse unless there's real airline competition. Until then, I stand ready to help you with any customer-service problems. So if United is ignoring your complaints, please let me know.

What do you suggest for those of us who like to travel abroad, but are unwilling to pay a ridiculous amount for tickets ($800 from JFK to Quito, $1400 to Buenos Aires, $1200+ to Asia, all double what it was just a few short years ago)? And this is all in the off season. Are there any destinations that are still cheap?

Flying has gotten very expensive. Best deals are to locations where there's competition. I don't think JFK posts a flight guide, but you can plug cities into its system to see how many airlines serve the route. If only a couple of legacy carriers serve, there won't be many deals. If a discount carrier is on the route, you'll see better fares.  San Jose, Costa Rica has been fairly reasonable.

Just back from a glorious two weeks with my wife, hitting Zion, Bryce, the Grand Canyon (North and South Rims), Monument Valley and Canyon de Shelly, among others. The highlights - too many to list, but I'd urge anyone going to the GC, if they can only go to one rim, to take the North. It's much less crowded, and the views (as at the S. Rim) are magnificent. Even though it's expensive (about $250), a helicopter ride over the GC, offered by, among others, Maverick Aviation, is unbelieveable.

Good for you! Yes, that is a beautiful part of the country. I stayed at the View Hotel in Monument Valley last year. I could see the buttes from my balcony. Thanks for the Grand Canyon tip!

My family (me, husband, and toddler) will be flying from Rochester, NY, to London for a wedding in May 2012. When should we think about buying tickets, and what should we expect to pay? Thanks!

I'd start looking now as long as wedding is before 5/22 (that's the last day you can currently look for pricing - but as each day passes, you can look another day out). You'll get an idea pretty quickly of the going rate,  and you'll be able to act when a sale hits. May is not cheap, and I'd expect that you'll pay about $900 each based on today's pricing for convenient flights.

Hi gurus. My husband and I will be at a family reunion in early August in West Palm Beach FL and we wanted to take a 2-3 day trip afterwards by ourselves to celebrate our anniversary. Any ideas of fun places we can go that are a relatively short driving distance (no more than 5 hours away) that aren't just lying on the beach (since we will be doing that during the reunion) or hanging out in Miami? Thanks!

You could check out the Everglades. Key West is also within five hours. Plenty to see there. I'm also going to throw out Orlando -- or nearby Winter Park -- because, well, I think Disney World would be a pretty swell anniversary trip (listening, husband?). But maybe that's just me.

Hi, last week my note was the first one in the chat where I mentioned that "Many airlines penalize you if your bag is over their arbitrary weight limit." I also mentioned that "...on trips to Galapagos last year and the Azores this year, we were faced with definite weight limits on our inter-island flights..." The bookend to this was the last comment, which was from someone from SATA, the airline we flew to and around the Azores. They noted that "Most inter-island flights are going full, not just with passengers but cargo - so SATA is very cautious on the weight levels of the new Dash Q400 NextGen aircraft..." We were aware and conscious of this as we packed for the trip. When I spoke about arbitrary weight limits I was mostly referring to checked bags on domestic flights. One thing about SATA that I thought was a bit strange was that on the Airbus 310 to/from Boston, we had the same 6 kg weight limit on carry-on luggage that we had on the inter-island flights. We assumed that they had this rule because many passengers immediately transferred to inter-island flights, but this was just a guess; regardless it did seem strange for an airplane that large where you had a fairly generous allowance for checked luggage. Finally, to anyone going to the Azores, fly SATA, they take you directly from Boston to Ponta Delgada, and it is a lovely flight.

Thanks for following up.

We want to break up our trip home from the mountains of N. Carolina back to DC and are looking for a comfortable and attractive place to stay, preferably in the countryside or a small town, with a good meal there or nearby. We can splurge. Any suggestions?

I think I have a few ideas, but tell us what route you're taking so our answer can be useful.

While studying abroad in Hong Kong, my classmates and I would congregate at Carnegies in Wan Chai every Tuesday night for all-you-can-drink vodka. It was a steal at $50HK (about $7 US at the time) and the bartenders encouraged girls to dance on the bar to 80's and 90's singalong tunes. It's the only place I've ever been regular!

How about the Canadian sports bar in Paris?! The Moose (http://www.mooseparis.com/). Nothing like ordering poutine and watching hockey in Paris. It is surreal-ly amazing!

We had a fantastic dinner at the Bartlett Pear Inn in Easton. For the quality of food, you would expect to pay much much more in DC! It's small, lovely, and romantic.

Why, that's our Bed Check this week! I'm sure Andrea would agree!

Haven't rented a minivan in a while, but I know the price is usually high.. Are there any recommendations for getting a good deal, or any companies I should avoid?

You can really drive yourself crazy trying to find the best price for a rental car. I usually go one of two routes: Hotwire (can be significantly cheaper if you book far enough in advance) or Costco. Hotwire, you have to pay up front and then you find out the company after. Costco might be an issue if you don't have a membership, but I feel like most times I don't have to put in a number or anything else that would prevent a non-member from booking a car.

Will be in lake como italy for 8 days what to do?

Unfortunately, I haven't been there so I'll throw it out to our chatters. Anyone got tips?

You did it right with shopping in Bali, and drinking in Spain. I just got back from Bali and was shocked at the price of liquor - they just imposed a new excise tax (none of my guidebook or online research mentioned this) so a poolside beer was over $6 and a tropical drink with rum was about $12! Otherwise, prices for everything, including food is a real bargain. When in Playa del Carmen, Mexico I like to go to a rooftop bar where the locals drink - there are two next to each other on 8th st between 5th Ave. and 10th Ave (the names escape me.) If I go alone, invariably a group will invite me to their table and share an ice-filled bucket of beers - it's always a good chance to practice Spanish and get tips for local events, new attractions etc. Workers from a beachfront club let me know about a touring DJ having a big party the next day - they made sure I got a good beach chair and great service the next afternoon. Most of the workers are migrant from other states, and I've travelled throughout Mexico so I learn about destinations in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Veracruz too.

I'm looking to go away for a long weekend with my boyfriend. We want to go somewhere with a beach but is quiet (aka not like OC). We just want to spend the time sitting in the sun and reading our books. We'd also like it be driving distance from Baltimore/DC. We're up for staying in a B&B. We were thinking somewhere along the Jersey shore. Suggestions?

I love Cape May! Pretty, charming, full of great B&Bs to choose from. Fabulous broad beach that never feels crowded. It's about a four-hour drive from DC (whether you do the overland route or take the ferry). That would be my first choice. But if you want something a bit closer, in the opposite direction there's Chincoteague in Va. Also lovely, though I confess I have not been there in quite some time. Your choices, chatters?

I'm submitting early because of my work schedule tomorrow. I hope you can help! I will be in London later this summer and found a day trip to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath on the website www.londontown.com. Any idea if this group is any good or how I might find out? We'd like to book something before we go, but the internet is overwhelming with options and I'm inclined to just take this risk, but wonder .... do you know this group? Know another to recommend? Thanks!!

This site has been around for a long time, and it has a decent rep. But I'm fairly sure that tickets are nonrefundable, as they are with many of these type sites, so be certain of your plans before you buy. Read the fine print.

Hi Crew, I'm flying to Burlington next month because flights directly to Montreal were too expensive. The drive seems to be pretty short (about 2 hours). Any general tips about making the drive and/or driving in Canada? Any good spots to see on the way? Thanks!

I've done what you've done -- flown there and then driven -- and I have to confess, I've never stopped anywhere because I was too interested in getting to Montreal! But it's an easy, charming drive, along the coast and then through little towns...

Hi, I'm going to Las Vegas for 4 nights next month and I'm wondering if I should call hotels directly to see if they have any deals, or if it would be better to book through an online site, etc. This is the first vacation I've been on where I need to book the hotel myself, so any tips would be appreciated, as well as hotel recommendations! This will be my first trip out there. Thanks!

I think it's worth the time to look at the hotel web sites themselves because often they advertise specials. For example, at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, where I stayed at a couple of weeks ago, you can get 20 percent off one night if you stay for at least two nights. If you don't find anything like that on their web sites, I would then call the hotel and ask if they have any specials. I liked the Paris. My room was big and some of the restaurants in the resort were great. I've also stayed at the Aria at the City Center, also on the Strip. It's a newer property so it's more modern. I thought it was great. The Cosmopolitan is the newest hotel on the Strip. I hear the rooms are nice. I had a drink at the Chandelier bar. It was super nice.

Catskill is a great choice - the three of us would agree, as we've spent many a weekend in the area! Any other ideas?

I don't know why I just thought of this, but I've heard good things about New Hope, PA/Lambertville, NJ. Only about an hour from Philly.

Do you know if there a bus route from Bethesda to New Jersey? A Vamoose type bus that doesn't go all the way into NYC. Thanks!

Hmm. Not sure! Vamoose, as you know, leaves from Bethesda but doesn't go to NJ, as far as I can tell, while Bolt stops in Newark but doesn't leave from Bethesda.

Our bus expert Andrea is out of pocket traveling today. Chatters, can you help?

A question about appropriate behavior with TSA. Like many folks, I try to time my walk through the zapper, so I arrive at the other side with my laptop, cash and other valuables. However, recently, I was randomly selected for extra screening. And told to stand in the extra screening place, which was located next to a sign that urges your attentiveness and reminds you that a laptop is stolen every 49 seconds. While standing there, I thought I saw my laptop about to crash off of the conveyer. When I moved towards it, I was severely reprimanded. What is appropriate or allowable under these circumstances? Is losing sight of our valuables and risking a purse or laptop just the cost of doing business these days?

I know what you mean -- I hate being out of sight of my things, too. I think the key to walking this line is to communicate about it. Just say nicely to the TSA person, "My things are coming off the conveyor belt, and I'd like to get them to make sure nothing happens to them. Is that OK with you? Or would you like to get them for me?" Something like that.

Last week you recommended that someone who had lost significant weight should get a new passport. What about the other things that might change someone's appearance over the ten-year life of the passport? I'm a guy; sometimes I wear a beard, sometimes I am clean-shaven. Many women change their hair styles and even colors from time to time. A passport issued to a seven-year-old won't look much like him nine years later. How often do we really need new passport pictures? Is there any support for developing a passport with characteristics that don't change, like thumbprints or retinal scans?

Here's what the State Department says:

New photos are only required if your appearance has significantly changed from what is in your photo.  Growing a beard or coloring your hair would not constitute a significant change.  If you can still be identified from the photo in your current passport or visa application, you do not need to apply for a new passport or submit a new photo for your visa application. However, you may have to apply for a new passport or submit a new photo for your visa application if you have:

  • Undergone significant facial surgery or trauma
  • Added or removed numerous/large facial piercings or tattoos
  • Undergone a significant amount of weight loss or gain
  • Obtained a new gender identity

The acceptance of your photo is at the discretion of the U.S. passport agency where you apply for a passport or U.S. embassy or consulate where you apply for a visa.

 

 

Regarding support for thumbprints or retinal scans, yes, the new e-passports, which have been issued since 2007, are apparently capable of storing that information on an integrated circuit. For now, they contain the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport, and additionally includes a digital photograph, according to the State Department. But someday, it could cointain more than that.

Any recommendations for things to do in Boise Idaho? Visiting in October, and the group will include an active 6 year old so some child friendly things would be great. Other group interests: sports, history and walking. Thanks!

Never been to Boise! Chatters, help, please!

good day chatters, i am planning a fall trip to the uae and wanted tips and suggestions on where to stay and what not to miss. my plans include dubai and the capital. thanks!

Ah yes. I think the chatters will have to help with this one, as I have personally never made it over there.

That would have to be a pub in southern England which had a fish tank that contained the most human fish I have ever encountered. It would mirror whatever you did--if you shook your head, it would shake its head. If you opened your mouth, it would open its mouth. I don't remember how the drinks were, but the fish was awesome!

Oh, so weird.

My finance and I are heading to Hawaii for our honeymoon this December. Is this a trip that we should be planning right now? We are still knee deep in wedding planning, so we were hoping to put trip planning off for as long as we can. (Can't wait to go on a Lost tour!)

Have you considered a travel agent? Finding a good one is the hardest part, but if you ask friends/family, you may be able to find one. Then you can just give the agent a general idea of what you want and put him/her to work.  Also, the Hawaii tourist site lists agents that specialize in various islands.

I have encountered this phenomenon several times and finally called the airline on this practice: While searching for frequent flyer tickets for Thanksgiving travel, I located a reasonable booking on Delta Airlines for travel from DC to Great Falls, Montana. Price: 32,500 miles. Since I am booking three tickets, I needed to move or buy some miles to get to the 97,500 total required. I left my desk for a few minutes to speak with my wife, came back and found, to my consternation, that the routing I had been looking at was now priced at 40,000 miles, a 25% increase for this - and only this - routing. I called Delta to express my frustration and in so doing had my suspicions confirmed by the agent: the mere act of my looking at that routing prompted the Delta Frequent Flyer computers to raise the price! Cause and effect and screwed! I've noticed this before. I feel like I'm flying with a used car dealer here. Thoughts?

That's a common problem with regular airline tickets, too. One minute, you see a fare you like, the next minute, it's gone.

I've asked airlines and technology experts about this and they say it's a function of the technology, and not an intentional bait-and-switch. I'm not so sure. Until we can prove there's some funny business going on behind the scenes, you should buy your ticket or redeem your miles as soon as you see a deal you can afford.

We are looking for a day trip this Saturday or Sunday and thought Annapolis may be a good destination. Are there any good activities that you would suggest for 2 30 somethings who enjoy water, hiking, good food, and cultural events? Bonus if they are dog friendly.

For water, you could look into renting an electric boat. The people at SJ Koch Duffy Electric Boats said if you're interested, you could give them a call -- they do dogs on a case-by-case basis.

The CVB has other pet-friendly ideas

Thanks for your story on High Line. Sounds like just the thing to explore before meeting friends for drinks this Friday evening. Just one question--on the whole, is there much shade? I don't want to melt out there!

Yes, there are definitely some spots with shade. I mentioned one at 25th street. And there are benches there. I also walked part of the first section of the High Line and noticed at least one shaded area. But much of it is exposed to the sun so be prepared. One good thing is there are plenty of spots along the way to buy popsicle sticks. And you can always cool off at the beer garden at 30th street.

I have a free airline ticket to use and I'm thinking about flying to Seattle just because I've never been and it sounds interesting. Right now I'm thinking about going in August, September or October. Any idea what the weather is going to be like there in late September or October? I'd like to go at a time when I won't have to pack sweaters. Or alternately, is there anything special that happens in Seattle in any of those months that is worth traveling for?

I'm your weatherman today, aren't I? July and August are the warmest months, but it doesn't get too hot in Seattle: In August, tops out at 75 degrees. In late September and October, you probably would need to pack some layers: highs in the low 60s,  lows in upper 40s to low 50s.

But there is indeed a compelling reason to go there then: fall foliage, of course.

Hi Crew, I recently purchased air tickets but was unable to book seats online. I called the airline and the rep assured me that there were seats, they were just being held for elite-status miles customers. The rep suggested checking back periodically to see if a seat opens up. My flight is a week from today and as of now, still no seats. I'm starting to feel like I spent $450 to fly standby and I don't appreciate it. I'm also scared I'll be SOL for a seat and I really need to make this trip on my schedule, not the airline's. My question is: how do I manage this? Keep calling? Check in online at the first possible moment? Get to the airport early, even though I won't have a bag to check?

You should be fine. Some airlines wait until 24 hours before departure to assign seats, and others assign them at the airport. Remember, if you have a ticket but are denied boarding, you're entitled to compensation under the federal law. Consult your airline's contract of carriage online for details. I post links to all the contacts on my customer service wiki.

If you are planning on taking photos in the Galapagos. you need to give your camera time to warm up as it moves from an air conditioned ship to the warm moist air outside, otherwise it gets a lot of condensation on the lens and elsewhere. One thing that helps is to put the camera in a tightly fitting plastic bag, and it will get all or most of the condensation. If it is a small camera, you may want to just put it in a pocket and let your body heat warm it up.

Good to know. Thanks!

I enjoyed your recent article on Costa Rica, my fiance and I are considering the country for our honeymoon. But can you really rent a car for $100/week? That seems too good to beleive!

Renting a car is pretty cheap in Costa Rica. You might even get it for less than $100. Take a look at any third-party booking site or an aggregator for a list of vendors. I looked at Expedia and Kayak.

We are looking ahead to next year, budgeting for a vacation in the NC/SC/GA area. Would like some time at a quiet beach location to unwind but also reasonable drive distance to places we'd enjoy visiting: historic districts, botanic gardens, wineries, Civil War areas, etc. We're traveling from Milwaukee. We'd appreaciate any pointers you can offer on planning this trip -- from most direct flight plans to where to stay, etc. Thanks.

Alas, if only we were a travel agency! I like the Isles of Palms near Charleston, lovely broad flat beaches. I stayed at the Wild Dunes Resort; very very nice.  You could fly right into Charleston, though from Milwaukee you'll probably have a connection somewhere.

I was in Berlin a couple summers ago with a grad school trip, and we came across this awesome bar called Slumberland. The floor was covered in sand, African beats were thumping, the drinks were great, and the vibe was laid-back. I left for home two days later, and told my boyfriend about the bar on our ride home from the airport. When we got home, he pulled out a book he was reading by his favorite author, Paul Beatty, called Slumberland. And yes, the book was centered around this bar in Berlin, with the main character as the DJ!

To the reader wondering about adapting to late dining in Spain. Remember that lunch is the main meal of the day. You are correct about lunch being between 2 and 4, but when we travelled there we found ourselves getting so into the "later" mode that we were often the last people arriving at a restaurant for lunch, somewhere in the 4 to 4:30 range. Late dinner doesn't have to be a full blown multi-course meal.

How did you sister manage the logistics of bringing back that huge 5' 10' painting?

Good question. I wondered that, too!

Are there any summer (now thru early sept) cruises with stops in Egypt (Alexandria)? Also what are the best deal to look for in domestic departures for last week of July or first week of August doing either carribean or Mexico/central america?

Re: Egypt, lots of lines have pulled out. But take a look at Costa, Princess and Holland America.

As for deals to Caribbean or Mexico/Central America, I don't know of a major sale. I'd just check with sites such as Independent Traveller. And follow us on Twitter.

I need to travel with my elderly mother one way from Southern California to Northeastern PA (ABE) in early August. Kayak one-way searches are giving me prices starting at $300 for my desired airline and connection schedule if I want to avoid Newark and Philly (which I do). If I enter the same itinerary as a same-day multi-destination trip (book each leg as a separate trip) I get a more direct route and only one layover for much less. I am not an experienced traveler. My question is can I do the second option without to much hassle? Would I need to retrieve our baggege and re-check in at the airport? Would we probably have to go through sercurity again? Thank you.

I wouldn't go with option #2, because your itineraries wouldn't be linked. So if you miss one leg, you won't be protected and the rest of your flights will be canceled down the line. The way you're describing it, I'm just not sure if it's worth it. (By the way, one way around this would be to use a human travle agent, who could link the flights on the same passenger name record.)

In Horta, on Faial Island in the Azores, everyone goes to Peter's CafeSport. We never ate there, so I can't comment on the food, but one really goes there for the scene. Peter's is right by the docks and is where all the trans-Atlantic sailors from all nationalities hang out. It is festooned with banners and plaques from numerous boats, as well as with notices from boats looking for crew, or sailors looking for boats. After a day of hiking, it was a good place to enjoy a half-liter beer, for a very good price. They also had excellent WiFi.

The week after I came back to the states from a deployment to Iraq I went to visit my boyfriend who was living in Tokyo (talk about jet lag). We went to a bar called Castillo in the Roppongi district that specialized in playing 80s dance music. Our impromptu dance routine to 99 red balloons got a standing ovation from the crowd.

With American Airlines having dropped its multiple daily direct flights from Dulles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, this now seems like a route with insufficient supply - the only remaining carriers flying to San Juan are United out of Dulles and Airtran from BWI. Do you see signs that any other airlines will add routes from DC to San Juan in the near future? Perhaps JetBlue, which has been increasing its flights to/from San Juan recently?

There are plenty of underserved markets. JetBlue used to have a nonstop from IAD to San Juan every Saturday, but I don't think that's being offered any longer. Most airlines are cutting back on routes rather than adding them. They're relying more on hubs and connecting flights through those hubs. Nonstops to non-hub destinations have really taken a hit.

I heard an odd story recently. I was told that some hotels monitor social media looking for "real time" criticisms of your stay, and then respond to the "real time" as well. I think I might freak out if someone came to my door and said, I'm here to repair to faucet you complained about on facebook. You guys heard anything like that?

I've not heard of hotels doing that, but I wouldn't be surprised. I've had airlines send me messages via Twitter when I've tweeted that I was waiting for a delayed flight.  What can I say? Social media is changing the way we all interact with each other.

I may have an opportunity to spend a few days in Paris next week. Have done lots of the touristy things already, so am looking for some exciting new things....any suggestions for something new? And what's the best way to look for new restaurants in Paris? Thanks for your help with this last minute exciting possibility!

Have you taken a boat ride on the Seine? At night? Visited Paris's many small secret gardens? Gone to the Museum of the Romantic Life? Climbed the steps to the top of Sacre Coeur? As for new restaurants -- talk to anybody you know who's been before you go. Get yourself a terrific new guidebook. Ask for recommendations at your hotel. What else, chatters?

I may be going to London in September and checked both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic's sites to see if they have daytime flights from Dulles. (I can't sleep on planes, so my first day after trans Atlantic travel at night is always wasted.) Both sites seem more interested in helping me find the cheapest ticket (which is appreciated) but I can't seem to find info on daytime travel. Any ideas? Thanks.

Try searching for flights on Kayak. Once you do your initial search, you can narrow down the options by time of day. Apparently not all airline sites let you do that.

The best bar I've been to was in a small Bahamas Island called Green Turtle Cay. The island has no cars and no police department. There is one liquor store, which has a bar that serves you a drink and doubles as a breakfast counter where you can also order eggs and bacon. We bought our week's supply of alcohol, had our first "on vacation" drink and ate a hearty breakfast ... and never left the stool!

Out of the Fire is an excellent restaurant in nearby Easton.

For a day trip or even for staying over one night -- what is the closest beach destination? Is Chesapeake Beach worth a look?

The closest beach would probably be Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County. You can go swimming, windsurfing, fishing, and boating there. I haven't been to Chesapeake Beach in a long time but I seem to remember it being quite nice.

First, love these chats and am glad the Travel Crew still does them. I'm headed to Italy next week and am wondering whether to get trip insurance. (Is it too late?) My Amex has coverage for trip interruption and some medical issues. Also, we fly into Florence - better to get some Euros before we go, or rely on the ATMs at the airport? Anyone have any tips on driving in Tuscany/Umbria? Thanks!

Thanks for the nice words. We love our chats! I don't think it's too late for travel insurance, although you usually have to buy within two weeks of trip deposit to cover pre-existing medical conditions. Go to InsureMyTrip for options. I always get a small amount of Euros before leaving so that I don't have to hunt for an ATM right away, but that's me. I've not driven in Tuscany or Umbria, so can't help you there. But once you get out of the cities in Italy, driving gets less nerve-racking.

While we're on the subject, I'm a naturalized US citizen and when we flew back from St. Thomas to the mainland last year (a flight entirely within the United States), I was told that I had to show my passport or some other proof of my citizenship or else I would be sent over for secondary screening. My natural born wife had no such requirement. What's up with that?

I'm not aware of any TSA rules (then again, this is an agency that has secret rules, so you never know). Far likelier, this is TSA unevenly enforcing its own rules, which it does to confuse the terrorists who want to blow up planes.

How can you pick your favorite bar? a sunny bar in Sydney, beer halls in Prague, dives in Krakow, racous sectarian pubs in Glasgow, friendly bars in Dublin, beer hals in Munich, seaside spots in Split, overpriced joints in Stockholm, quirky funky places in Filand, the Depeche Mode themed bar in Tallinn, etc. Jason - from one traveling drunkard to the next, thanks for the great article on Spain. I may have finally convinced my spouse to go there now that you mentioned the bars per capita angle.

How about Lenox-Stockbridge, Massachusetts?

Yes, love that area!

Was so excited to get an email offering me a comp'd room in Las Vegas for 3 days! Then the heat was on (so to speak) to find airfare. Ended up going with United because initially it appeared to be the cheapest ($278 vs $600 for Southwest), but all the various add ons during the reservation process were a total pain! Tell me the price and be done with it already. Anyway, it's done and I'm very excited! A free room for 3 nights is awesome! And no, I'm not a big roller by any stretch (penny slots are my thing). It does pay to sign up for the loyalty cards!!

Good for you! I was just in Vegas a couple of weeks ago. I had a great time. And I'm not a gambler either. There are fantastic restaurants there. Have a cosmo at the Chandelier restaurant at the new Cosmpolitan Hotel.

Have you considered a side trip to Craters of the Moon?

Thanks for the tip!

I was surprised you didn't mention Panama. Copa flies there nonstop from Dulles, and it has the added incentive of Panama City nightlife.

Oh my. My bad. Especially because I was there just a few months ago! That was an oversight. I did enjoy my trip there. Here's my story on Panama. I didn't get a chance to go, but I heard that Bocas del Toro is really beautiful and fun.

You won't notice much difference between driving here and driving there (except maybe that most traffic circles don't have lights and are instead free-flowing). But it may be useful for you to have a short list of kilometre-per-hour equivalents to mph speeds, just in case the car you're using doesn't have both on the speedometer. For example, 35 mph = 50 kph, 50 mph = 80 kph, etc. Charts and calculators are all over the web.

Also, Peter's has the best currency exchange rate (US$ - Euros) on Faial! They're noted as well for their gin-and-tonics -- and even their Cokes come in glass glasses, with a round of lemon sliced while you wait. Best of all, you're allowed to take your drinks outside across the street so you can gaze at the Marina, if you so desire.

Hands down, The Church in London on Sundays ... any backpacker worth their salt has made a pilgrimage there and have a few tales to tell.

Thanks so much for joining us today. We had some really great bar answers, but the winner of this week's prize is the chatter who celebrated July 4 in Havana (bonus points for timeliness). E-mail us at travel@washpost.com with your info.

One final programming note: We'll be taking next week off for the holiday. Enjoy it!

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Flight Crew
The Washington Post Travel section is your source for narrative tales and practical advice about journeys far and wide -- from weekend trips to the Eastern Shore, to two-week jaunts to the Far East -- plus consumer news, penny-pinching strategies and deals galore.
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