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December 12, 2011

12:01
P.M.

Talk about Travel

Total Responses: 69

About the hosts

About the host

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.

About the topic

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. This week we check out London's East End pre-Olympics and the Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento.
Q.

Zofia Smardz :

Hello chatters, and a happy Monday to all. It's a little chillier here in Washington than it has been in recent days, feeling a little more seasonal. I trust you enjoyed reading Andrea's fun story about London's preparations for the Olympics in yesterday's section. It inspires me to ask about your stories of  sporting-event related travel. I could tell you about the time I was sent to cover a slalom race in Austria and ended up stuck on the mountain and having to walk down in my not really snow-repellent three-inch heel boots. . . but I won't. I want to hear yours instead! Best story takes the prize. Now for your questions.

Q.

Detroit

Hello, my boyfriend and I will be stopping in Detroit on our way to Chicago this year. We're fully aware of the economic difficulties it's faced, and, in fact, that's part of the reason we want to stop by. Any suggestions of places to visit or things to do? We like art, music, beer, and nature.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

Check out this story we had on Detroit earlier this year. It'll give you some ideas of the hip new places -- there actually are some! Plus some restaurant and bar suggestions. Sounds like you, too, are attracted to the idea of  "ruin porn." Not that there's anything wrong with that! Chatters, let's hear your ideas, too.

– December 12, 2011 12:04 PM
Q.

Winter Carnaval in Quebec City - airfare deals?

Hi Travel Gurus, My friend and I are planning a trip to the Winter Carnaval in Quebec City for this February. We have hotel arrangements (but can change them if you have better suggestions), but we're having a hard time finding reasonable airfares. As in, airfares under $800 round trip. I'm flying out of the DC area (National Airport is preferred, but will hike to Dulles or BWI to save money). She's flying out of Indianapolis. It would be great to meet up and have the final leg of the flights together, but we'll be okay separately. Do you have any suggestions? Are there any deep discounts for flying north in February that may be worth waiting for? Thanks so much for your help/advice. I'll plan to join the discussion at noon Monday. Katherine
A.
Carol Sottili :

It's always expensive to fly to Quebec City. And flying around Winter Carnival doesn't make it any cheaper. There are no discount carriers that serve Quebec from either Washington or Indianapolis. And flying into Montreal won't save much money. You could fly to Burlington, Vt. (airfare is about $200 round-trip from Washington) and then drive the four+ hours to Quebec City, but that's rather extreme.  As for air discounts, I would not count on that.  

– December 12, 2011 12:04 PM
Q.

Feb warm weather destination question Dec 05 chat

Naples FL, which is on the west coast, directly across from Miami, has some of the best Feb weather in the continental US. It is served by Regional Southeast airport [now International Airport] RSW. Tampa is about 3 hours North and is generally easier to reach and has cheaper fares. Renting a car and driving down is very doable. Naples is known to double its population during the winter months when the snowbirds decend and many spring breakers visit their parents and/or grandparents for a good time. Fort Myers is a little more active at night and is a 25-mile drive north of Naples.

A.
Zofia Smardz :

Many thanks for the wealth of info.

– December 12, 2011 12:15 PM
Q.

Ten Year Anniversary Trip

My husband and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary and have a week to get away without our young kids. We were considering a mediteranean cruise but most last 10 days and that is just too long a trip for us. We've been to Hawaii (for our honeymoon) but done no other major travel. We are somewhat adventurous travelers and enjoy a mix of relaxing and fun activities. I've considered all inclusives in the Carribean or South America but concerned about safety if we left the resort. Where would you go if you had a week?
A.
Joe Yonan :

At the top of my list are Vietnam, Israel, India, southern Spain, and returns to Tokyo, Barcelona, Istanbul and Rome. Oh, I'm no help, am I? Well, can I ask you what time of year you've got this week? Maybe that'll help me narrow it down.

– December 12, 2011 12:15 PM
Q.

Airline Ticket Pricing

I recently booked a ticket through Continental from Shanghai, China to SFO for a codeshare flight actually operated and flown by United. Out of curiosity, I looked up the fare for the same exact flight on the UA website and was quoted a price almost $150 more than the price I paid booking through CO. My question is this, Wise and All-Knowing Travel Gurus. Why?!?! It seems to me that it would be more logical for the fare to be lower booking through the airline actually operating the flight. (Yes! I'm savvy enough to know that expecting logic from anyone in the air travel industry is asking for the impossible!) Regardless, can you all offer any insight into this practice?
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Because they can. You're right, it would make more sense if the other flight cost less, but unfortunately, logic has little (often nothing) to do with airfares.

– December 12, 2011 12:16 PM
Q.

Sport Related Travel

This is my mother's story (she's now 72) but one of my absolute favorite stories about her. She was - and is still - a big Indy car racing fan (NOT Nascar!). So she and a two girlfriends decided to go to the Indy 500 one year from their college in Erie PA. With no money, they hitch-hiked (so this would have been the late 1950's). They would spread out on the highway -- the first girl would check out the car as it drove by to see if it looked safe. If yes, she'd give the next girl a thumbs up. The second girl would then take a look, and if it looked safe would give the third girl a thumbs up. Then the third gal would stick her thumb out to hitch a ride. They made it. AJ Foyt hit on my mom and asked her back to his hotel room. She said no, but it's still a good story :)
A.
Zofia Smardz :

"Great" story! Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 12:17 PM
Q.

It;s About Safety, Not About Modesty

I missed last week's chat but may I take a moment from this one to respond to the multiple posters from back then who seem to misunderstand my (and apparently other people's) qualms regarding the X-ray screening technology. I've been working out since I retired and I'm probably in the best physical shape I've been since I was a four-sport high school athlete. I'm not concerned about what someone sees. But I am concerned about the health risks this X-ray screening technology may represent. Perhaps someone at The Post can include a link to last month's PBS NewsHour story which included an estimate, by the MD who heads the department of radiological medicine at Columbia University, that the X-ray scanners could cause as many as 100 additional cases of cancer among U.S. travelers. I am also concerned by TSA's apparent bureaucratic unwillingness to reconsider this technology or to allow an independent study of its effects. Why, for instance, would it be a firing offense if a TSA screener wore a radiation measuring dosimeter, even one purchased with their own money, while at work to accurately determine their own radiation exposure from the machines. So, to those people who aren't concerned about "being seen naked" and say the same to me. It's not modesty that keeps me out of the X-ray scanners and keeps me choosing the physical search instead. It's a concern that these machines have not been fully and properly tested and are an unsafe technology. Thanks for the loan of the soapbox.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks for getting up there on the box!

I hadn't seen the PBS NewsHour piece, but here's the transcript, and it's pretty interesting, indeed. 

The estimate that you mention comes from the expert's idea that one in 10 million people could get cancer as a result of the backscatter-technology scans, but since 1 billion travelers could pass through the machines in a year, that's 100 that could get cancer from it.

Other estimates in the story, though, talk about how we get the same amount of radiation eating half a banana (from the potassium?!) or from flying at 35,000 feet for two or three minutes (from being closer to the radiation in space, without protection from the atmosphere). But those estimates come from the manufacturer of the machine.

Seems like the upshot is really that we just don't know how much of a radiation dose we get from the backscatter-technology scanner, because the TSA (citing security concerns) hasn't let the scientific community in on the testing.

– December 12, 2011 12:18 PM
Q.

Travelers Checks

Just got back from Puerto Vallarta. Interesting fact -- banks, money exchange places and resorts were not willing to cash AMEX traveler checks and many of them had signs that said they would not cash travelers checks. Strangest thing I've encountered in years. What is up with THAT?
A.
Carol Sottili :

Traveler's checks are no longer welcome in many countries. Many shops in Europe stopped accepting them years ago,  and I don't get them when I travel. You often have to go to banks to get them cashed, and that's a hassle. And then there are fees. I do hear that they are still welcome in China. Any firsthand experience chatters? 

– December 12, 2011 12:18 PM
Q.

ALBERTA / Flight Crew chat

Alberta the most beautiful place imaginable?? Quite frankly, only if you haven't travelled to any other place in the world and if you like a very basic cowboy like environment lacking even the most basic culture and even history in a cosmopolitan sense. P.S.: I live outside the US so get the Post online. Love the chats and don't quite understand the point of the chatter who complained about the duplication. Even if I got the paper copy as well, it would never occur to me to raise this as the choice is clear: read one or the other! Thanks.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thank you for your thoughts!

– December 12, 2011 12:18 PM
Q.

ski lodge

Hey guys, I'm submitting early because I may not make the chat. I'm going to try to give lots of details for you! A friend and I (two twenty-something women) are planning to go to a ski lodge in Feb for a short weekend trip. We've never skied and are more interested in trying snow tubing, ice skating, sitting around a fire in a lodge drinking wine, maybe visiting a spa. Do you have any ideas for resorts within 3 hrs of DC that are good for this? We'd probably like to stay under $300/night on a Saturday. Thanks for the help!
A.
Carol Sottili :

There are only a few ski resorts that aren't geared to day skiers within that distance of Washington. They include Wintergreen, Massanutten, Bryce and Wisp. Of those four, I'd probably go to Wintergreen. Snowshoe and Seven Springs are larger, but they're farther away.  

– December 12, 2011 12:19 PM
Q.

Christmas travel

Unfortunately we have to take a plane out of IAD on Friday afternoon, Dec. 23. Do you think allowing 2 hours at the airport will be enough time? The security line is completely unpredictable, but I have never missed a flight. Thanks.
A.
Joe Yonan :

A domestic flight? Yes, I think that should work. But then again, I'm not the best person to ask about these things, cause I always cut it close. Anyone else want to counter me?

– December 12, 2011 12:20 PM
Q.

TSA at Miami Int'.

I wrote in a couple of weeks ago about American Airlines follies, but also have a TSA comment. While coming thru security in Miami, I got to be scanned by the new screening machine. Happily, the image was NOT anatomically correct, but the plastic, decorative grommets on my nylon cargo shorts were enough to get me hand scanned. Then they decided that my hands needed to be swabbed for something, but the machine had to be rebooted, recalibrated, re-everything. This was taking FOREVER, and my belongings were across the room, and I knew my next flight was boarding... Eventually, they finally let me go, and I really don't think the machine ever actually did anything. And of course, my boarding gate was at the farthest possible point in the terminal. I had to pee something awful, was dehydrated from running all across and around Miami International, and the flight was boarding.... Somehow, everyone in our group made the plane, but we were all sweating and exhausted. And my son got waved thru security due to the plane being late...WHY, or why?!
A.
Christopher Elliott :

I have been asking a similar question for years. The TSA says it tries to be unpredictable, in order to prevent terrorists from figuring out the system. Critics say it's because the TSA is disorganized. I'll let you decide, based on your experience.

– December 12, 2011 12:20 PM
Q.

Aussie Rules Football

In college, a friend and I took a trip to Australia, and decided one of the aspects of Australian culture that we had to experience was an Aussie Rules Football game. I'm not really sure why, as neither of us are big sports fans at home. Anyway, we went through the whole process of getting tickets, but didn't really know the rules of the game or much about either of the teams. Once the game started, the fans around us started rooting enthusiastically for their chosen team, while we sat there just trying to figure out what the heck was going on. About 10 minutes in, the guy next to us must have heard our accents when we were talking, because he went, "OH! You're American! I was wondering why you girls were so quiet - it was pretty weird." He then proceeded to explain the game to us, which definitely made it a lot more fun!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

It always helps to understand the game!

– December 12, 2011 12:21 PM
Q.

Probably a stupid question, but...

I often read questions in your chats about the European Christmas Markets. Could you please tell me exactly what those are? Are they like outdoor sales, specific decorations, what? Your chats are always so enlightening - thank you so much for teaching me something else!
A.
Joe Yonan :

They're shopping markets set up in many, many cities and towns throughout Europe where artisans sell wares and you can also buy traditional seasonal foods and the like. Some, like Dresden's, are more old-fashioned than others.

– December 12, 2011 12:22 PM
Q.

Detroit

After a terrible, unplanned layover in Detroit with an airline that has since gone belly-up, we had a great visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks for the idea. For the Detroit-bound chatter.

– December 12, 2011 12:22 PM
Q.

10 year anniversary trip

I beg to differ with Joe -- I would NOT go to India, and probably not Vietnam, if I only had a week, given the travel time to get there!!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

You make a point.

– December 12, 2011 12:23 PM
Q.

Sporting travel

I grew up near Lake Placid, New York. In February 1980 I was a small child, but to this day I remember the 10 days we spent... in South Carolina with family, then at Walt Disney World. We fled the scene, except for a few days near the end of the Olympics. I remember watching a speedskating race and playing in the snow piles next to the track at the four-man bobsled event. Six years later I skated in competition on the "Miracle on Ice" rink, and it was pretty emotional. The spirit of that game is just infused into the building, it really comes through when the ice is down. I've also skied on the cross country course, taken the tourist sled down the bobsled run - AWESOME, if you get the chance, do it! - and frozen my tuchis off watching World Cup ski jumping. Somehow, though, I never learned to downhill ski, despite Whiteface being right there.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Nice, thanks!

– December 12, 2011 12:27 PM
Q.

10th Anniversary Trip

I haven't been, but I've been hearing great things about Belize and Costa Rica for a week-long trip.
Q.

Tamarindo

I am traveling to Costa Rica in a few weeks and still looking for a hotel in Tamarindo. We'd like to be within walking distance to the beach and keep it under $100/night. Everything I'm finding seems to be hostel-type accommodations or out of our price range. You or chatters have any recommendations?
A.
Carol Sottili :

 Hotel Arco Iris is within walking distance of the beach, with high season rates of $99 a night. But it'll be more if you're going around holidays. 

– December 12, 2011 12:29 PM
Q.

Exit row seating on United

Hi, gurus: I'm flying United next month. When I made my reservations, I selected exit-row seats and the site said that I'd "successfully selected" my chosen seats. After I'd entered my credit card information, however, my seat assignments had been changed. I tried logging in a couple times to change them in the reservation system and, despite continuing to get the "successful selection" message, still don't have my preferred seats. I also called United (because I hadn't gotten email confirmation of my reservation) and asked about the seat assignments; they say that exit rows are under airport control and they are not assigned until people get on the plane. I've been able to select exit-row seats before; any idea what's up? Should I just keep trying through the online system?
A.
Christopher Elliott :

United was right the second time. Often, you are unable to reserve the exit row seats until you arrive at the airport, although some airlines now sell those seats for a premium. If you show up early and ask for the exit row seat, you should be able to get it. (Also, please bear in mind that United is still consolidating its reservation system with Continental, and many gliches are being reported.)

– December 12, 2011 12:30 PM
Q.

tamarindo

years ago, we stayed at hotel el milagro and remember it being fairly inexpensive. it's not glamorous, but it is right across the street from witch's rock surf camp, which i highly recommend for amazing surf instructors and fantastic happy hour specials.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 12:39 PM
Q.

Travel and sports - Ireland

At the tail end of a business trip to London, I tacked on a trip to Ireland in September. I procrastinated on getting a hotel room (thinking that the financial crisis would have many rooms at low low rates) in Dublin. I'm in London the week before and start checking hotels. They're all sold out because the day I plan to arrive is the Gaelic football final. I head to Dublin on a ferry (where I'm awakened at 6AM and am trying to find a way to the city center with no Euros and no ATMs). Walking around Temple Bar, I find the Hotel Clarence, plunk down money for a room, and sleep for about six hours. I then go down to the stadium, trying to see if I can get tickets. I find no scalpers, but I do meet and talk with a presidential candidate for Ireland's then-upcoming election. I, still really tired, can't find my hotel for about twenty minutes. I go to a bar in Temple Bar to watch the game and order my first Guinness in Ireland. The bar eventually fills up. Due to a friend, I'm rooting for County Kerry. Kerry takes the lead over Dublin, a team which hasn't won it all since 1995 (Kerry's won six times since then). With a minute left, the people to my left are cursing out the refs. Then Dublin comes back to tie the game on a surprising goal. With a second left, they have a chance to win with something like a field goal. They nail it. Dublin wins, bar goes nuts, city goes nuts for the next two days. It takes me two weeks to get "Come on, you boys in blue!" out of my head.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Fun!

– December 12, 2011 12:39 PM
Q.

Riviera Maya-Chichen Itza...logistics

We got a package to Riviera Maya (6 adults) for the end of February and will be arriving to Cancun Airport at 5pm on a Friday; we are looking for reliable options to get to the area of Akumal. I've seen many transfer operators but with so many it's difficult to decide. My second question is regarding Chichen Itza, any recommended tours to get there? Unfortunately we will not be able to rent a car. We would like to be in a small group and trying to avoid the stops at "gift stores." Thanks.

A.
Carol Sottili :

As you've figured out, lots of shuttle services are available  between Cancun and Akumal. Go to the airport site for choices. It should cost about $135 each way for the six of you. I've taken shuttles and taxis from Cancun to various resorts south of there and never had a problem.  As for going to Chichen Itza, I'd rent a private taxi van driver. With your large group, that shouldn't be too expensive. Ask at the hotel for a recommendation. I'd avoid tours. Takes forever, and I'm with you about the stops at the gift stores. Plus it'll cost just as much. 

– December 12, 2011 12:39 PM
Q.

Cinque Terre - flood clean up and time to visit?

I am thinking of visiting the Cinque Terre towns while I'm in Europe this spring (late March / early April,) and have some questions. First, I understand the area experienced bad floods in November. How is the recovery effort proceeding? I assume they want visitors to help the local economy recover, but will they be ready for tourists in the spring? And is March / April a good time to visit? Any insight from the pros or the readers is appreciated. Thank you.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Actually, the flooding was in late October. All reports are that the area is doing its utmost to dig out and clean up and is determined to welcome visitors by the spring. So I would say that March/April is absolutely just the right time to visit. This beautiful area will certainly need the tourist dollars!

– December 12, 2011 12:40 PM
Q.

Hawaii on a budget

How feasible do you think it would be for two adults who are both 27 to do eight days in Hawaii on a budget of $3,000? We're willing to travel during the off season (oh drat, how horrible to spend May in Hawaii) and to cut back on things like lodging and food so that we still have some money for a few excursions. I'm most interested in visiting the beaches and national parks, which I know don't cost too much, although I would like to do a few activities in the cities, like visiting the royal palace. I would like to visit two of the islands while we're there - right now I'm thinking Oahu (seems to have a good mix of city and nature) and the Big Island (volcanoes!), but I'm open to other suggestions. We would be flying from Chicago - I saw tickets in May for about $700 round trip per person. Is that a good deal? If you do think this is doable, where do you think we should look for cheap lodging? I'm not looking for luxuries but I don't want to stay anywhere we have to worry about getting robbed.
A.
Carol Sottili :

If you can get air tickets for $700 each, you can do a trip to Hawaii for $3,000, as long as you don't mind eating a few peanut butter sandwiches along the way. Stay in bed-and-breakfast inns or hostels. The Hawaiian Tourism Authority has a fairly extensive list of B&Bs and couple of hostels. Try Hostel World for more hostel choices.  Start shopping around now for airfare sales between Oahu and the Big Island. 

– December 12, 2011 12:43 PM
Q.

Panama concerns

(submitting early due to meeting - but will rush back and try to join! Love these chats!) - taking a cruise that goes into Gatun locks, turns around in Lake Gatun and then docks on Colon. Will take a Holland America excursion because everything I read says that Panama is unsafe to travel alone. Problem is...the excursion leaves from the Gatun locks in the morning - no free time there - and then we'll still have 4-5 hours in Colon. Again, everything I read screams "you'll get robbed or worse" What does anyone suggest? Prefer outdoorsy stuff or possibly a little shopping to benefit locals - not interested in tourist Tshirt shops. Thanks in advance!
A.
Joe Yonan :

It's particularly some parts of Panama City -- and the entire city of Colon -- that are high-crime areas, according to the State Department. But... you're not going to get to explore the Gaun locks? How about Fort San Lorenzo? There are other forts to explore at the Portobelo National Park, snorkeling, and lots of outdoorsy stuff to do at places like this one.

– December 12, 2011 12:43 PM
Q.

Normandy

We are going to rent a car at the Paris airport and spend 3 full days/2 nights in Normandy in June. Our main focus are the WWII beaches, and musts are stops for a couple of hours each in Giverny and Chartres on the way there and back. Any tips on how much time we need at the beaches (is one full day enough? should we hire a guide?) and other stops if we have time (perhaps Rouen, Hanfleur, Mt. St. Michel?). Should we stay in Caen or Bayoux? Any other info such as moderately priced places to stay and eat would be much appreciated.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

By all means go to Mont St. Michel! I recommend it every time someone asks about this region. And try to get a hotel on the island for an overnight -- it's a really special experience to spend the night there, after most of the tourists have cleared out. A hush descends, and the sound of the wind circling the abbey is haunting. As for the beaches, yes I would hire a guide. DDay Historian comes highly recommended by a friend, and you do need at least one full day to see the beaches. So arrive the night before and plan to spend the next night there as well. Bayeux is supposed to be a lovely small town and a good place to base yourself, as many tours of the beaches leave from there.  As for specific places to stay, let's ask the chatters.

– December 12, 2011 12:43 PM
Q.

Vieques

Hi gang, thanks for these chats. Heading to Vieques for about 5 days in February and looking for ideas on what to do, aside from luxuriate on the beach. Any cool outdoorsy things we should know about? Special things to see? General tips? Thanks!
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Try the scuba diving -- I will never forget the incredible drift dive I did there a few years ago -- and check out Bio Bay (Puerto Mosquito) which is best seen at night.

– December 12, 2011 12:44 PM
Q.

Traveler's checks . . .

Are going the way of the rotary phone. Why bother with them when you can pick up currency at the mall (Travelex), get a debit card already loaded with currency (Travelex again), and if you have money left over on your debit card, you can get your money back (Travelex again). We spent about 500 euros on our trip last year, both cash and debit card, and we put the rest on our credit cards.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Agreed.

– December 12, 2011 12:44 PM
Q.

Age and Exit Row seats

A couple of weeks ago I asked a question about this and got a response that linked me to the FAA website that gave the standard bureaucratese about helping the crew in an emergency etc etc. I know all about that, but what I want to know if you or the commenters/questioners or the lurkers have ever seen anyone removed from an exit row for apparent reasons of age, or for any other reasons, apparent or not. Thanks.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Yes, I have seen it several times -- usually for being too young. Readers, how about you?

– December 12, 2011 12:44 PM
Q.

Baltimore Oriels in Cuba

I hope you can't trace this :) Years ago, my friend and I decided to visit Cuba. Despite her efforts, we could not find a room in Havana, so settled on a hotel in the close suburbs (think Arlington-DC). Once we arrived, we learned why - that was the weekend the Orioles were down playing the Cuban team and the hotels were sold out. Upon checking in I exclaimed "Oh - the Baltimore Orioles are here" and the desk clerk, not understanding English well, thought we were VIPs and put us on the VIP floor. We unpacked and went to a restaurant we read about downtown and who was there? Several Orioles with a host from the American "Interest Office" (read: CIA). We dined and danced with them all evening, but unfortunately were too hung over to get to the game the next day.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Very interesting. I hope this was many years ago. :-)

– December 12, 2011 12:52 PM
Q.

Trip after Christmas

My sister has just broken up with her boyfriend and wants to get out of town after Christmas. I'm always game for travel and will be supporting her. We are a little bit stumped about where to go. We find the beach boring and prefer more active vacations but since I'm pregnant skiing is out. We like to shop for art and for ceramics and other items for the home but not for clothes. We want a little bit of history and culture. We're from fly-over land so will be most likely flying through Atlanta if that makes a difference. She's vetoed Costa Rica. I've vetoed Belize. Right now at the top of our list is actually Turkey. Any other places we should be considering? If things work out right, we have about 8 days to travel.
A.
Joe Yonan :

How about Guatemala? Did you see Bill Brubaker's piece on collecting folk art there?

– December 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Q.

Cheap Warm Getaway in Feb?

By February, I have a feeling I'll be desperately needing a trip to somewhere with temps above 70 and sunshine. Any recommendations for places that would be under $500 per person for flight and hotel (probably two people)? We're in the DC area and did Orlando last year.
A.
Carol Sottili :

How about the Bahamas? Vision Airlines recently started service to Freeport from BWI, and it has some cheap package deals. 

– December 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Q.

Going to Philly for the a few days over the holidays

Taking advantage of a couple of days without the kids. We don't have any family there just looking for something different. We have been before with the kids so we have seen the histroic sites and we were wondering if you have any suggestions for extra things to do in the city. Thnks
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Have a look at our story about the Manayunk neighborhood -- might be fun to stroll around this hip district. Fishtown, closer to Center City, is also supposed to be fun. I also love Chestnut Hill, which is like a little village at the edge of the city. Have you been to the Reading Terminal Market? It's always fun just to stroll around and ogle the goodies. Try a Philly cheesesteak! Have you toured the historic homes in Fairmount Park? they're beautiful. Seen the Edgar Allan Poe house? Take in a dinner at Osteria. Chatters, other ideas?

– December 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Q.

Caution! Poisoning at Berlin Christmas Markets

A caution to anyone visiting Christmas markets in Berlin. So far 10 people have been made ill (symptoms: nausea, vomiting, sometimes unconsciousness) by a man offering schnaps. He claims to be celebrating the birth of a child and offers people schnaps. One victim was careful to listen for sound of the seal breaking and was still affected. It's important to note that this is an individual. The quality of food and drink sold by the official vendors has not been implicated.
A.
Joe Yonan :

There is a bad Santa at work. Revelers, beware -- and buy your own booze.

– December 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Q.

London Trip

We're planning a trip to London either fall of 2012, a while after the Olympics are over or spring of 2013. Looking for decent, mid-priced hotels that can sleep three adults in a room. Doesn't seem to be a whole lot out there. Any thoughts? Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

The Premier Inn hotels are nothing fancy, but they're clean and the rooms aren't too small. 

– December 12, 2011 12:54 PM
Q.

Mexico Car Rental

Tips on steps to make sure you're protected while renting a car in Mexico? Are there certain companies with better/worse reps? Is this one instance where I should take the insurance? Etc.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Mexico often requires additional insurance of US drivers, even when you are covered by car insurance or your card. I would definitely stick with the brand names when renting there. That way, if something goes wrong, you have a place to complain to (and that will respond).

– December 12, 2011 12:54 PM
Q.

United Exit row

If you are premier flier on United you can book the exit row seats in advance. Consequently, these seats may not be available at the time of check-in.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Gotcha.

– December 12, 2011 12:54 PM
Q.

baseball trip

Thanks for the Normandy info. We took a fantastic trip to visit baseball stadiums and other sports meccas w/ our 2 teenage boys a few years ago - spent the day at a sight or museum each day, baseball game at night, then on to the next place early the next morning. Fallingwater/Pittsburgh pirates, Rock & Roll hall of fame/Cleveland Indians game/ Ford Museum/Detroit Tigers/ Canton OH for a day at the football hall of fame/Chicago (3 days there including White Sox and Wrigley field), Indianapolis 500 hall of fame & bus tour around the track/ Cincinatti baseball game - with a drive over the river just to say they'd been in KY. My kids still talk about it.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Wow, that sounds like quite the tour!

– December 12, 2011 12:55 PM
Q.

Detroit

I went there for summer vacation - it's great. Go to the Fisher Building (gorgeous interior and exterior) and the Motown Museum. Take a day trip to Ann Arbor. Michael Symon has a great restaurant in downtown - there's a good Italian restaurant in the GM building (walk around and get a hot dog, too). Go to the Henry Ford and see the River Rouge plant. Go to the Detroit Institute of the Arts and marvel at the murals. And see a concert at the Fox Theater if you can.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 12:55 PM
Q.

Travel to Cuba

Do you have suggestions for moderately priced travel to Cuba...for two week trip? Are there non-profit agencies you recommend ?
A.
Joe Yonan :

There are lots of companies offering people-to-people tours to Cuba now under the new, looser rules of travel. We're getting on one soon and can give more confident recommendations once the trip is done...

– December 12, 2011 12:56 PM
Q.

Things to do in the DR?

Hello! My fiance and I received a last minute opportunity to join some friends at an All Inclusive in the Dominican Republic this February. We're staying at a resort in Playa Bavaro. We're excited, but we have never done an all-inclusive before and would like to find some activities off the resort. We both like eating good food, hiking, swimming, generally exploring new cities, etc. Do you know of any activities in that area that would get us away from the all inclusive for a bit? Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I just went to an all-inclusive in Punta Cana a few months ago, and we never got off the campus. But it was a wedding with lots of family, so we were content. Hotels offer tours that will take you golfing, shopping, zip-wiring, boating, etc., so unless you want to do something unusual, such as bird-watching, I'd likely go with the hotel's subcontractors. Any chatters have a favorite tour in this area? 

– December 12, 2011 12:56 PM
Q.

Travellers unwelcome souvenir

Hi, I recently found out that I brought home some unwelcome guests from one of my trips in the past few months - bedbugs. Do you have an article about these most peristent of intruders? I'm really miserable, and I travel a lot for work, so it was only a matter of time.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Why yes, we do! Here's what Andrea wrote about bedbugs last year. And here's one the Health section did a few years back that details ways of getting rid of them.

– December 12, 2011 12:56 PM
Q.

Travel and Sports - Singapore

During a business trip to Singapore, I went to see an Australian Basketball League (yes, Australia expanded) game between the West Sydney Razorbacks and the beautifully-named Singapore Slingers. I root for the Razorbacks since they have a player who played at my college. Lots of the expats at the game - many of them Australian and almost all having enjoyed some nice beverages - heckle the Razorbacks all night, focusing particularly on one player to whom they keep on yelling "Harvey!". Singapore wins easily and their Singaporean player on the team comes in at the end to make a last-second shot to pad the lead, causing the crowd to go nuts. I talk with the fellow alum and thank him for making my college experience so cool.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 12:57 PM
Q.

Bayeux, France

I stayed at a bed & breakfast called Les Trois Pierres in Bayeux when I went to visit the Normandy beaches. It was very nice, and the owner spoke English well enough.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thank you!

– December 12, 2011 12:57 PM
Q.

Sports travel

Unders the wire! My favorite sports travel is for myself - I like to travel to go to running races. It is a good excuse to go to new places and gives a good focus to a quick weekend trip.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Yes, you made it! Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 12:58 PM
Q.

Dulles on Dec. 23

In some delusional moment, I decided flying out of Dulles at 10pm on Dec 23 for a cross-country flight was a good idea. Not checking any bags, so would normally get there an hour early. How much extra time would you allow for holiday congestion? And yes, I realize you're not all knowing :)
A.
Joe Yonan :

I'd leave another hour.

– December 12, 2011 12:58 PM
Q.

Recommendations for Puerto Rico?

So glad I caught the chat today! After an unfortunate medical emergency caused us to cancel our trip to the DR in November, I just rebooked for PR in late January. We picked PR on a whim but have no idea where to stay. We'd like the option to explore Old San Juan but would also like to have convenient beach access. Any recommendations? In return, my humiliating sports-related travel story: I went to Park City for a ski trip - only my second time ever on skis. After a successful morning on the bunny slopes, my now-husband convinced me to try the blue trails. Within an hour, I had gotten stuck on the ski lift (forgot to jump off), been knocked head over heels by a snowboarder, and veered off the side of the mountain, after which it took half an hour for my husband to get me back onto the trail. Fun times.
A.
Joe Yonan :

If you stay in Old San Juan you're definitely close to beaches -- but I'm not sure what you mean by "convenient beach access." You want to be ON the beach? That's possible. There's the Caribe Hilton, which is gorgeous but maybe a little pricey -- it's just outside OSJ. 

– December 12, 2011 12:58 PM
Q.

Checking through question

My wife and I are traveling to Prague and Scandanavia in a couple of weeks, and are wondering how we should have our bags handled. We have flight segments from IAD to Copenhagen, Denmark and from CPN to Stockholm, Sweden on SAS. When then layover 2 hours at ARN before flying to Prague on Czech Airlines. Should we have our bags checked straight through to Prague, or pick up our bags in Stockholm and recheck to Prague when we switch airlines? We'll be in Europe for nearly 2 weeks, so I'd hate to start our trip with lost bags.

A.
Joe Yonan :

I would never want the hassle of picking up and rechecking bags, especially in a foreign airport on a 2-hour layover. You'll have to go out of security and back in! I would either get lost-baggage insurance, or pack everything into carryon.

– December 12, 2011 12:59 PM
Q.

Watching soccer championship on TV in the host country

I was in Portugal during Summer 2004 when the European football (soccer) championships were held throughout the country. I had no intention of trying to attend any of the games (hassle, expense), but it was fun to go to a neighborhood café or bar with a wide-screen TV and soak up the local color by watching with the friendly natives (host nation Portugal's team, clearly benefiting from home-cooking, made it all the way to the finals!). I mention this too because Euro2012 is being held in Poland and Ukraine this summer, in case anyone's interested in vacationing there but doesn't want to attend the matches.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 1:00 PM
Q.

Phila

I grew up in Society Hill - that's a beautiful neighborhood - and close to South Street, which is lots of fun.
Q.

Driving from Santa Fe to the Grand Canyon in May

Greetings! For our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I will be driving from Santa Fe to the Grand Canyon. We have about a week, and are looking for any must-see sights, hotels or restaurants that will be on our route. We are adventurous and love margaritas and being outdoors (preferably together!). Thanks!

A.
Joe Yonan :

We're running out of time, but very quickly, you'll of course be passing right by El Malpais National MonumentPetrified Forest National Park, and Canyon Diablo, all worth your time, I'd think. Flagstaff, too. Chatters, send in your recs for this route, and we'll discuss next week!

– December 12, 2011 1:01 PM
Q.

flying to Canada

I'm not sure if it will work to Quebec City, but DC to Toronto and Ottowa is considered a "short flight" by Air Canada's frequent flyer program, Aeroplan. That means that it is only 15,000 points for the round trip. And American Express is one of the partners so you can convert AmEx points to Aeroplan points. I think there is currently a 20% bonus on conversions (get an extra 1000 points if you convert 5000). You still have to pay for taxes and fees for an international flight, but it is a pretty good use of points. I've done it for vacations in the summer and never had an issue with getting a seat even for flights in just a few weeks. And even if Dc to QC works, it might not work for Indianapolis. But it is worth calling Aeroplan to find out if it would work. They have been very helpful in the past.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks! Not sure if the original chatter is an Amex cardholder, but for what it's worth...

– December 12, 2011 1:01 PM
Q.

Renting a house in Brittany or Normandy

My family plans to go to France and Belgium next spring and we'd like to rent a vacation house for a week in either Brittany or Normandy. Do you have any recommendations of websites that handle this sort of thing? (I've started looking on VBRO.com.) Also, if you had to do either Brittany or Normandy, which would you choose? Many thanks.
A.
Carol Sottili :

The French Government Tourism Office has a good list of links for renting vacation homes in France. As for Brittany vs. Normandy, toss a coin. 

– December 12, 2011 1:01 PM
Q.

Time allowance

I hate to sound like a travel snob, but the airports are going to be packed with amateur travelers on the 23rd. We flew out of BWI this past weekend and it took 30 minutes for 10 people to get through screening because they didn't know about 1) removing shoes 2) laptops 3) plastic bags for gels and liquids 4) belts 5) taking coats off, 6) having boarding pass and ID ready before you get to screening, 7) not carrying bottles of water through, etc. It was insane. I really wish there were a line for "people who travel rarely or never" and "people who travel frequently". Anyway, it took far, far longer than we planned and we made the flight only because I am compulsive about being early. Factor that in times 10 for the 23rd.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Times 10? Guess the original chatter needs to get there the day before, then. ;-)

– December 12, 2011 1:01 PM
Q.

Alberta

Why so harsh on Alberta? Not everyone defines beauty and culture by tall buildings, night clubs and museums. I think the beauty of Banff can go toe to toe with just about any other natural place in the world.
A.
Joe Yonan :

A defender speaks. Thanks.

– December 12, 2011 1:01 PM
Q.

Alberta

Banff and Lake Louise, and many other parts of the Canadian Rockies are stunningly beautiful, and I write this as a traveler / hiker of four continents. You've seen the beautiful turquoise color of Lake Louise in photographs...that's the real color, and the photos still can't do it justice.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks!

– December 12, 2011 1:02 PM
Q.

Big island

I traveled there. You can find some affordable places easily n the big island in Kona and Hilo. You can find places for under $100 per night easily. They are usually nonage hotels or motels. When pricing your flights look to book the trip back and forth to Hawaii separate from an inter island connection. You will find cheaper airfares. The other option is booking to and from Honolulu and the book the inter island round trip separately. You really need about 6 days on the big island. Because it's big.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Sometimes fares are cheaper to Hawaii, but they've gone  up quite a bit in recent months. Yes, always do the island-to-island airfares separately. And as for how long to stay, depends on how much area you want to cover. Thanks for the tips. 

– December 12, 2011 1:02 PM
Q.

Exit Row Seats

I have been told to move from an exit row because they thought I was a minor. I am a 27 year old female who looks young, particularly on early morning cross country flights with no make up on... I was able to show ID and keep my exit aisle row seat.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Funny!

– December 12, 2011 1:02 PM
Q.

re:Panama

Other than Colon, it's fine. Don't worry. Really. Panama City is fantastic, and you need nothing more than the same common sense you'd show in any large US city to feel safe.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Righto. Appreciate it.

– December 12, 2011 1:02 PM
Q.

For "10th anniversary and have a week to get away"

Regardless of time of year, check out the Azores (1-week discount packages available). Read "A Man for Off-Season."

A.
Joe Yonan :

Thanks -- yep, the Azores are supposedly lovely.

– December 12, 2011 1:02 PM
Q.

Exit row

I have seen people get moved, mostly for age, but on a recent trip a woman was reseated because she didn't speak English.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

That almost happened to me. I was reading a book in German, and the flight attendant wouldn't leave me alone until I proved to her that I could speak English.

– December 12, 2011 1:03 PM
Q.

RE: Quebec City

When travelling to Montreal or Quebec City via Burlington, VT (flying into Burlington and driving the rest of the way), remember that you will be crossing the border in your car and will need to take that into account when calculating your travel time. We've learned from experience that even though the crossing into Canada usually isn't too much trouble, the traffic backup can be an hour or more on Sundays when all the Canadian travellers are returning from their trips to the US.
A.
Joe Yonan :

Ah, good point.

– December 12, 2011 1:03 PM
Q.

RE: Age and Exit Row seats

Yep, I've seen it happened. About 5 years ago, I was on a flight to Orlando. My brother-in-law and his family were with us. His parents were removed from the exit row due to their age as the flight attendants were concerned that they wouldn't be able to ably assist passengers in case of an emergency. Now, why the ticket agent assigned them to that seat in the first place is a whole 'nother question....
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Hmm, this might make an interesting column!

– December 12, 2011 1:03 PM
Q.

Hawaii on a Budget

Hostels in Hawaii: http://www.hostelsaloha.com/
A.
Carol Sottili :

Thanks. 

– December 12, 2011 1:03 PM
Q.

Sport in September 2012 in Dublin, Ireland

Normally, the first and third Sundays of September, the All Ireland Hurling and Gaelic Football Finals take place in Croke Park stadium in Dublin. In 2012, The Navy is playing Notre Dame there (in Croke Park) on Sunday 2nd September with the All Ireland Hurling taking place on Sunday 9th September and the All Ireland Gaelic Football on 23rd September, 2012. So, heads up if you plan on visiting then.
Q.

Phila - Barnes Foundation

It's downtown now - a must see.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Of course!

– December 12, 2011 1:05 PM
Q.

All Ireland Gaelic Football Final 2012 is on Sunday 16th September, 2012

Sorry, made mistake in previous post.
Q.

santa fe to grand canyon

Study up on Mary Colter, the architect. She's got great work in Santa Fe (interior) and South Rim of the Canyon. Masterpiece, though is in between the two - La Posada (hotel + restaurant) in Winslow.
Q.

Zofia Smardz :

Thanks all for chatting with us again today. It was fun, as always! Loved your sports stories, too, but the prize goes to the chatter whose mom was hit on by A.J. Foyt in the distant past. Send your contact info to me at smardzz@washpost.com. Thanks again, everyone, and see you next week.

Q.

 

A.
Host: