Talk about Travel: Kayaking the Everglades, lost and found, hip Atlanta and more

Apr 09, 2012

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.

Good Monday afternoon, travelers one and all. Thanks for being with us today. If you haven't had a chance to check them out, we had some very entertaining reads this weekend, including Tom Shroder's tale of adventure in the Everglades and Andrea's story on lost-and-found logistics. Sensing a bit of a theme? We covered lost objects the other week, so this time let's go with people. Tell us about times you -- or a traveling companion -- have gotten lost. Best answer wins the prize. Let's get started!

So if I have to change a flight reservation, I get charged all kinds of money and hassle. HOWEVER, when the airlines make several and occasionally serious changes to my flights, I just get to sit back and think of England?? I spent a fair amount of Saturday trying to find out just how screwed I am going to be this summer trying to get to Cozumel. No "sorry" from the airlines, just "these things happen". I can only imagine how many people per year are seriously rearranged by the airlines, with no recompense or thought of fairness. It is nothing compared to being left on a runway for many hours I know, but I am really tired of their being able to just do whatever they please. Thanks. I feel better now.

Remember, when an airline changes your schedule, you're allowed to ask for a full refund. You might be able to start over and find a more convenient schedule. But an apology from the airline? That might be asking too much.

Does Tom have a postcard from Montreal? I'm doing an eating trip to Montreal. I've been to Au Pied de Cochon, but I want to try Joe Beef and Garde Manger. Are they overrated or worth the hype? Also, are there hidden treasures that I absolutely need to try?

Tom's last Postcard from Montreal was in 2003, but it's still valid, I think. You can also check out Joe Yonan's recent Impulsive Traveler on Montreal during maple syrup season -- he mentions at least one non-maple syrup restaurant -- plus another one he did a couple of winters ago (he liked Joe Beef).

I will be in San Francisco and would like to visit Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park and possibly Lake Tahoe. Can you suggest an itinerary and some places to stay overnight? Thanks!

This story we had a month ago sounds just about perfect for you. And the details box has hotel suggestions as well.

I've heard that the largest and most majestic redwoods are found on California's North Coast at Redwood National Park near Crescent City, CA, especially in a place called Stout Grove. What can you tell me about this as a vacation spot for my family?

I'm going to refer you to the above question asking about the region, but will ask that any chatters with advice about your particular area of interest chime in.

One of our cruise stops is the Island of Santorini. We're looking to find a beautiful, secluded, and EASY TO GET TO beach from the port. Can anyone help? Thanks.

We will probably have to throw this one out to the chatters for specific recommendations. Chatters, le's hear from you.

Meanwhile, here's a story on Greece that we did a couple of years back that includes Santorini. May be helpful.

I was recently in a European city to visit a friend with whom I usually stay, but this time I wanted privacy so I booked hotel near his apartment through hotels.com. The night I arrived at my hotel, I headed downstairs to get the internet access code and my friend was coming in the door...with a key. He had gone to the desk and asked for a key to my room and they gave it to him...without asking me. This struck me as a both gross violation of my privacy by the hotel (not to mention my friend, but that's another story,) and a safety risk. I immediately filed a complaint with hotels.com via live chat and then email. (I also complained directly to the hotel.) I was assured they would investigate and look into compensation. But all I got back was an email, days after I'd left that hotel, thanking me for the feedback and suggesting I post it on the comments section of their website. How should one handle such complaints? If hotels.com says they'll investigate, shouldn't they do so? And wasn't it completely outrageous for a hotel to give someone else a key to my room? Thanks for any advice you can offer.

You're right, they shouldn't have given your friend a key. But I think you should have taken up the hotel directly instead of asking Hotels.com to investigate. Althought it should be aware of the problem, the hotel needs to investigate and fix this. I don't think you could ask for anything more than an apology and an explanation. This type of breach doesn't really rise to the level of being able to ask for points or a free night (but you never know).

Rather than go all the way up to Crescent City (hours from anywhere, including an airport or a four-lane highway) I would suggest the Muir Woods in the bay area. Gorgeous redwoods, sequoias, etc. and very close to San Francisco.

Yup, Muir Woods was also included in that story. I was there a few years ago. Only a short visit, but still quite pretty.

fix please

I have passed this along to the folks who manage that box. They're on it. Thanks!

Any suggestions on food in Prague or out of the way places to visit?

Have not been to Prague recently, so we'll have to ask the chatters for restaurant recommendations. But I want to say -- forget about the out of the way places! In Prague, you must visit the in the way places. There are so many of them -- Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square, Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral and on and on and on -- all laid out before you, and they are all beautiful, stunning, historic, authentic and, much as we hate the word,  MUST-sees!

In college I spent a semester abroad in Paris and was assigned, with a friend, to a host family that lived just outside of Paris - a quick bus ride from the end of a metro line, even walkable. After class one night during the first week, my friend and I got terribly lost trying to make it home. We first took the wrong metro train and wound up at the end of the line in an unfamiliar neighborhood. We hopped the metro back into the city with plans to hop what we thought was the right line. We were wrong again. We decided to hop a bus, thinking it would help us to be above ground and to recognize places. Well, we went past the Louvre (which was stunning at night) and other parts of the city before realizing we were clearly going the wrong direction. We stopped for some pain au chocolat, and then some more, as we tried to decipher our little metro and tourist maps. It was nearly 9PM when we eventually made it home and our host family was worried sick. They told us to put our bags down, wash up, and join them for dinner. We were in such a rush that as we tried to skip down the two flights of stairs from our bedroom, we slipped! We slid right down a flight of stairs into the closed door at the bottom. Our thuds were thunderous. The couple seconds of stunned silence that followed were quickly interrupted by a chorus of "ca va?". Us, our four host siblings, and host parents had quite a laugh all through dinner that night!

That's quite a day! Love it.

The largest redwoods are actually the Sierra Redwood (Sequoias) found in Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, etc. The coastal redwoods are higher and the best collectin is Redwoods Natol Park (though Muir Woods, near San Francisco isn't bad). California also has the oldest trees (Bristlecone Pines).

My husband is a great kayaker but does not like alligators. and when we have seen Kayak places in the Everglades to Kayak the gators seem to be present. Infact, quite large. For people from Michigan, who only have to cope with wild animals like Deer it is a bit daunting.

You might try the southern edge of the Everglades, closer to the Keys. Actually, the Gulf side of the Keys around MM 100+ is pretty nice for kayaking. I use to live there, and never saw a gator.

Be sure to check out our Everglades kayaking story from yesterday. The author doesn't even mention gators!

I think you do Tom and your reader a disservice in saying a nine-year old postcard recommendation is probably still valid. Locally he routinely updates his recommendations for restaurants that he has praised when he finds they no longer deserves them, sometimes after just a year or two.

Well, I say that because one of the three restaurants he reviewed is Au Pied de Cochon, which is apparently still going strong.

Well, that's part of what some of us actually LIKE about the farther north redwood groves -- getting away from hoi polloi! BTW, there are also tall redwood groves in a state park near Garberville along the old redwood highway in southern Humboldt County, if you seek to compromise on the distance.

I'm hoping that fellow Travelers have some interesting recommendations for travel this summer for 2 adults for about one week. We like historic places, good food, great scenery, relaxation. Bonus points for not sweltering weather. Although we've flown in the past, finances will probably not allow that this year, so we're looking for something within about 4 hours driving distance of Philadelphia. Budget is around $1,500 for travel and accommodations. Places we've gone and liked have been Stowe, Vt., Memphis, TN, the Maine Coast, Cape Cod. Thanks in advance!

I think something in New York might suit you. Maybe the Finger Lakes region or Hudson River Valley. The time I spent in and around Catskill was just about perfect.

I was stuck in a meeting and missed the Live Chat on Monday but had to thank everyone for all the great suggestions. Last I knew the ferry to Nova Scotia did leave from Bar Harbor. In light of that no longer being the case, it seems the extra distance, time and cost of the ferry (OMG, the cost!) are making that prohibitive. I'm sure the Maine coast will be a wonderful place to hang before starting our return trip. Thanks again, you are a generous and knowledgeable group.

Glad you found it helpful! Good luck with your trip.

Any ideas for a trip to the Big Island in July? We're going with two teenage boys, and we're more into outdoorsy stuff -- not interested in fancy resorts or shopping.

The highlight of my Big Island Visit was an excursion to Volcanoes National Park.  We went with a guide from Hawaii Forest & Trail, and they showed us a lot of insidery stuff that you wouldn't know about if you went solo.

1985. I and other high school students visit the USSR with our history teacher. First day is in Leningrad, and we're given the morning as "free time" before we tour the Winter Palace in the afternoon. A few of us decide to go to one of the bigger hotels downtown to exchange money (our hotel didn't have the service). We had wandered around as a group the night before, so I was pretty sure I remembered the way. Our hotel required us to leave keys at the front desk, so we tried to remember the name of the hotel and the street name. Couldn't read Russian, so tried to remember phonetically, repeating over and over. I didn't remember the way perfectly, but we eventually got to the big hotel, and then it was time to return to our hotel. You can guess the problem - none of us could remember our Russian words. Just one word. We finally found an English speaker and learned to our horror that the one word we remembered meant "street." Luckily we were near the Winter Palace, so we went there to await our teacher and classmates. It was not as easy as we would have guessed - there were literally dozens of tour buses and hundreds of people. So we sat right in the middle of the square, praying our teacher would find us. He did, thank goodness. And from then on, we stuck with the group :)

Taking business class train on Thursday for a first trip to NC. I know that it won't be a memorable scenic route, but should I overload myself with reading stuff and plan to nap a lot, or will there be interesting sites to view along the way? Thanks--love the chats!

Unfortunately Andrea, who took the train to Charlotte several times for an Amtrak story we did a couple of years back, isn't here to offer her insights into that route's sight-worthiness. But have a look at the story, which might help, and let's ask the chatters if any of them have taken this ride and can answer your question. Guys?

My boss's husband leaves his Kindle in a seat back pocket several times a year. He always realizes it while he's still in the airport, but only gets it back about half the time even though his name, address and phone number are stuck on the back with labels I made for him after the first one was left behind. He keeps buying new ones, so I guess he'll keep leaving them behind until he runs out of money.

Wow.

My family and I lived in Athens, Greece, in the early l960's. The street names were long and written in Greek, so you pretty much had to memorize where you were going. (Today they also have Englsh lettering.) The city had height limits so that you were supposed to always be able to see the Acropolis, but weonce found ourselves in a rabbit warren of streets w/no Acropolis in sight. After circling for what seemed like ages, we stopped a motorcycle cop to ask directions. His English wasn'tmuch better than our Greek, but he tried to be helpful. At one point he started jumping up and down, saying, what is this? What is this? We didn't understand,not even when he reached down and picked up a piece of the crumbling roadway. Eventually other passers-by stopped to help out, and explained that he was referring to a paved road -- not all of them were paved in those days. We eventually got where we were going, but I can still see that poor policeman, trying to be helpful, jumping up ahd down on the paved road.

Funny!

There are pockets of Redwoods all around northern california. The biggest concentration by far is the national park and state parks near crescent city. IF you are doing just a day trip from San Fran then Muir Woods is suitable along with a few other places right around the immediate area. If you want to go to crescent city part of the redwoods, the better option is to travel there from Portland and throw in Bend, Crater Lake, and the oregon coast.

Good Monday morning to you all! I have a question about pet-friendly travel. It seems easy enough to find places that call themselves "pet friendly" (hotels, rental houses, etc.). But I find when delving in a little deeper, what they really mean is "dog-friendly" --- i.e., cats need not apply. I'm guessing this is probably because cats are seen as more likely to dirty or scratch up a place --- though it's not that a dog couldn't poop in the dining room or gnaw on furniture, of course. I'm sure it's not that common for people to want to bring cats along on vacation, but for the odd soul who does, is there any hope?

Great question! (I'm actually working on a story about this topic; please send me a note, and I'll include your question. Here's my email.) The short answer is: There's no national "standard" for pet friendliness, no "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval. Anyone can say they're pet friendly. You have to ask for specifics regarding pet amenities and read the reviews if you want to be sure.

My husband, our two little kids and I are going to be taking our first cross-country trip on Amtrak. There will be three overnights. We have a family bedroom reserved. The routes are the Capitol Limited and the Empire Builder. Any hints for making the most of the train ride?

Read our cross-country on Amtrak story! The author had no trouble filling all her time just staring out the window at the scenery.

There is a beach in the State of Florida which charges a fee to people to let them hunt treasure with a metal detector. Each year numerous single gold dubloons and pieces of eight are found in the sand there. What is the name of the beach and what city/town is it near?

Not sure which one you're talking about, but here's an article on the Florida tourism site that might help.

Northern California (real Northern California, not the Bay Area) is very rural. Finding a place to stay will be a challenge. We rode the Skunk Train from Ft Bragg and loved it (goes through the Redwoods, and if you get a certain train--it's steam powered). We stayed in Ft Bragg. We drove north from there to Oregon, through Crescent City. California puts Pelican Bay Prison there for a reason--isolates the Southern California felons from their support systems. Do you want to hike? See the Redwoods from the road (and drive through the one that has a tunnel cut in it?) Or are you a Wild Trees fan? How old are your kids?

My husband and I went to Spain on our honeymoon. We were wandering around Granada and we got lost. We saw a sheet hanging out someone's apt that said: tourists go home! Tourists were shot here recently! Go back to the city center! Or something like that. Wasn't too hospitable, considering how nice everyone in Spain had been to that point.

Yikes.

Great article on the lost and found situations on planes, hotels and other vacation venues. One way I try to avvoid losing expensive gadgets such as my Kindle is to make time before landing to search my backpack or the seat pocket for this item and others I might have taken from my carryons. If the pilot or flight attendants announce that we're landing in X minutes, that's the time that should be spent to look for our stuff. For guys, please consider putting your wallet in your front pocket instead of your hip/back packet if you want avoid losing the wallet while seated during the flight. Of course, I do know that for families with kids in tow, you're going to spend more time getting them ready for landing and arrival at the gate before looking for your gadgets. But consider trying to do so anyway. Also, buy luggage that's of a different color than red or black so that it stands out on the luggage carousel.

Good advice.

The best restaurant I've ever been to in my life was one called Area in Montreal. The restaurant closed, but here's where the chef is now.

The Adirondacks are always lovely and a good bargain. There's Revolutionary, War of 1812, and American homesteading history to be had, it's gorgeous to look at, and there are excellent eating options in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake at a minimum. I haven't been up there in a while and am not au courant with the restaurant scene, so there may be new restaurants in other towns, too.

Does Paris have a food market that is anything like La Boqueria in Barcelona? My searches so far have turned up a bunch of food markets, but no single Market that would be a must-go destination. Any suggestions?

A few suggestions, sourced in collaboration with our in-house gastronome, interim Food editor Bonnie Benwick: St-Quentin covered market (near Gare de L'Est 85 Bis Boulevard Magenta); also you can check out the Les Halles area -- it's where the old market (now relocated to Rungis) used to be but is still a good area for shopping. And here's a big list from the Paris tourism site.

I'm hoping that you (or the readers) can give me some advice. I'm interested in traveling to Haiti for 3-4 days -- specifically to Port-au-Prince and the historical sites near Cap-Haitien. Any advice on locating a reputable guide/tour company? I'm aware of the risks of traveling to Haiti, but from what I've heard, the tourism industry is at least somewhat back in business, and it seems like a fascinating place to visit.

We have not been to Haiti, so once again chatters, help us out here.

Hi! I'm headed to Turkey at the end of this month for 9 days. We're going to spend most of ourt time in Istanbul but want to head to other places. Are there other places to go or things to do that are off the beaten path? Also, do you have any website recommendations to book hotels? Thanks!

It depends on how far you want to go. The Cappadocia region is supposed to be fantastic. Our author even recommends a specific hotel. I would also go to Ephesus for the history and the fabulous ruins. These are not off the beaten path, but there's a reason why that path is beaten.

To book hotels, you could always try the biggies -- Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity. Unless, chatters, you know of a Web site specific to Turkey?

Can you recommend a nice hotel with spa in the Middleburg-Warrenton, VA area? I want to invite 3 friends from Cleveland to help celebrate my 60th birthday this fall with a wine tour & dinner and spa day. My first thought was the Boars Head Inn and Barboursville, Jefferson, and Blenheim wineries. But because my friends will fly into BWI, I thought Grey Ghost and Linden wineries might be an easier trip.

Have a look at the Goodstone Inn & Estate.

Twin sister and I were at the appointed meeting place at the appointed time. Waited and waited. Finally the tour guide found us. Turned out that at the appointed meeting place she counted all 14 members as being present and accounted for so she left and walked the group back to the tour bus. What she didn't count on, were the two people who weren't part of the tour group but she counted as though they were--and like lemings, they had followed her back to the bus too!

In 2003, two friends and I backpacked through Thailand for a week. At the tail end of our trip, we flew from Phuket to Bangkok where we went to the ticket office to confirm our flight home for the next day. A pilot in the ticket office gave us recommendations on a place to stay for the night while awaiting our flight. Later, we were standing outside the airport trying to figure out what bus to catch and not having much luck, when a bus went by with the same pilot hanging off the back. When he saw us looking confused, he immediately hopped off at the next stop and ran back to find us. We were so helpless, he decided to take us in for the night! We had a fantastic time visiting a local restaurant and bars, hearing about his life in Thailand, and he even lent me his favorite book on the Thai monarchy, which I mailed back to him months later. I will never forget his kindness to three complete strangers.

Because of the location of the port and the geography of Santorini, you're going to have to take a taxi or bus to get to any beaches at all, you're not going to be walking to any of them from the dock. That said, it's a very tourist-friendly island, so you shouldn't have a hard time finding a cab or using the bus to get to the east side of the island, which is where the beaches are.

There you go.

Hi, hope your readers can lend some advice. We're planning a trip this summer to Ireland with two boys. We'd like to have a night or two in a castle there -- no luxury accommodations, no ghosts. Just a castle experience. Is there a website or source to help select such a place? Any specific recommendations? Thanks!

Try Celtic Castles. Anyone else have a suggestion?

Stargazing on Mauna Kea is a must. We didn't do a special tour, we just drove up ourselves (the road was nowhere near as bad as everyone says it is) to the main visitor center and once it was dark someone led a stargazing talk, pointing out different stars, and even two galaxies! We also did a snorkel trip on the Kona side with Seaquest Snorkel and had a great time.

Yes, excellent suggestions!

1. Quebec, yes the drive would be a bit longer than 4 hours but well worth it. Prices are reasonable, the scenerey is magnificent, poutine alone is worth the trip. 2. thousand Islands. Good Scenery, relatively close and there are a lot of fun day trips on the St Lawrence.

Driving the family of 5 (kids aged 14,14, and 11) from D.C. to Jackson, WY. We have one week in Jackson and one week to get there and one week to get back. Porter, the chocolate lab, will be in the car as well. Are there any must-see stops between here and there?

Wow, that really is an epic drive! You'll be passing through or very close to some big cities. A few thoughts -- ride the funicular in Pittsburgh, shop for food supplies at the West Side Market in Cleveland, check out anything (maybe a Cubs game?) in Chicago, walk over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha.

I'm going to Albuquerque for a meeting in early October and am thinking about spending a few more days in the area. I have been to Santa Fe, Taos, and Bandelier National Monument. Where else would you suggest within a few hours drive of Albuquerque?

I LOVE Chez Cora for breakfast. It's a small chain in Eastern Canada and it's amazing for crepes and other breakfast yummies.

Aer Lingus and Travelzoo often advertise castle stays combined with flights. Having said that, I cannot say I recommend Aer Lingus. We flew to Ireland last month via Heathrow, and we were only on AL for the London - Dublin leg. On the way there, our 45 minute flight was delayed five hours, no compensation was offered, and they even charged for refreshments on the flight. On the way back, we had an aborted landing, and our luggage didn't arrive home for three days because AL couldn't be bothered to deliver our bags to British Airways. Just some food for thought.

The poster could also post a question in the various cat site forums such as The Cat Site. See also hotels.petswelcome.com.

Yes, good idea.

Family trip - Norwegian Fjiords cruise. Late June/early July. What kind of weather should we expect both at sea and ashore?

Chatters?

The airlines I booked through didn't offer it. Can you suggest some other companies I can got through?

We usually recommend people search SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip.

If Tom Shroder is joining the chat -- Thanks for the article. I've been to the Everglades a number of times starting in the 1970s and find them almost magical and definitely hypnotic. It's good to know they're still vast and filled with life, as there's been talk of them being endangered. And it's good to know that a "geezer" (your word!) can go on such a journey -- Maybe I'll try to heal my back spasms on a similar trip! What you don't mention in your article, or I missed, are the smells and sounds ... and the alligators! I had a harrowing experience once part way across Alligator Alley and wonder if the critters were absent from the waterways you traveled. If you'd take a moment to respond, it'll help me imagine myself back there once again.

Tom has not, alas, joined us for the chat. I've forwarded your message to him, though. If he sends me any kind of reply before the chat's over, I'll post it, I promise.

Apologies for responding late, but I was skimming through the recent chats and saw that someone was asking about visiting Quebec City this summer. If at all possible, I strongly recommend visiting during the annual "New France" festival around the end of July or beginning of August (not sure what this year's dates are). Thousands of local residents don costumes from the 17th and 18th centuries and stroll around town, hold parades, and demonstrate what life was like during the French colonial period. Visitors are not only welcome but are strongly encouraged to get into costume and join in! We happened to be there by chance during last year's festival and it was AMAZING!

One day in Rome in the 80s my two friends and I separated for the morning and I suggested we meet in St. Peter's square to reconnect for lunch and the rest of the day. Well, what had happened since I was last there was that the Pope had started having his audiences in the piazza, so when I went there at noon there were thousands of people there. Tens of thousands, maybe. This was before cell phones, and I hadn't had the sense to make a backup plan, so we all spent a lot more of the day by ourselves than we had intended to, only meeting up late that night at our hotel.

20 years ago, my husband and I were riding bikes through Europe -- from Germany to France by going across Belgium. We got lost in a big industrial park right before crossing the border into Belgium. We headed toward a steeple we saw in the distance, and we were thrilled when we found we were finally at a border crossing. But it wasn't Belgium. It was the Netherlands. We exchanged money and stayed the night, only to realize in the morning, that if we had gone 5 miles further, we would have been at our destination!

Oops.

We have sent two emails to British Air about problems we had returning to London from Rome. The website jumped one month when my daughter made our reservations ( which the customer service representative in Rome said is a known problem so we had to change the flight which was more than half the price of a new flight) and the ticket counter said we could not check in luggage that contained olive oil. My husband was told we could not put olive oil bottle in a checked suitcase. British Air acknowledged the receit of our emails but has not contacted us in several months and they do not seem to have a US phone number. We would at least like an apology for the olive oil fiasco but right now I feel like never flying a foreign airline unless I buy the US partner ticket. MF

I'm sorry to hear about that. Can you send me an email with the particulars, and I'll see what I can do to help. 

I fly DCA-BOS all the time and while I love JetBlue, killing time in Terminal A is terrible. There aren't enough seats near the gates and the food/adult beverage options are seriously lacking. Are there any plans to make the area more user friendly?

Not that we know of at this time, but if that changes, we'll be on it! (Btw, we are planning a major story on airport/airline upgrades in the near future, so keep an eye out.)

Just wanted to say I enjoyed this story, though I was waiting to see when Dave Barry or Gene Weingarten would show up. It sounds like they had a great trip. The Everglades are one of our last really wild places. Thanks for adventure!

You know, Dave or Gene showing up isn't that far-fetched. Tom knows them both!

"In the way places" are in the way for a reason, travelers! If it's your third visit to a city, sure, go to the out of the way places. But your first? Be a tourist. See the big things. Especially in Prague.

There's definitely truth to this! I have to really fight my resistance to acting like a tourist, but you're right.

If you like vegetarian, check out the small cafeteria chain Le Commensal. If you're an omnivore, look for places offering Montreal's famous smoked meats (alas, Ben's is now closed). Fancier eating with spectacularly rich pastries (especially chocolate, after which the restaurant is metaphorically named): La Tulipe Noire (the black tulip).

I loved doing a night dive with the manta rays. Also doable as a snorkel trip if you don't dive.

My mom wouldn't let me have anything white when I was growing up, as "it gets dirty so fast." I bought myself a gorgeous white wool coat that I adored and took it to San Francisco last February. Wouldn't you know, it was unseasonably warm and my coat didn't get to see the light of day... on my way home, I stashed it in the overhead bin and TOTALLY FORGOT about it until I was walking out to my car at my destination airport. I panicked, dashed back into baggage claim and explained my situation to the person at the lost baggage counter. They immediately hopped on a walkie talkie and within 10 minutes (maybe 40 minutes after my flight landed), my lovely coat was returned to me by some super nice people at Alaska Airlines, who explained that it doesn't happen very often! I could have cried!!

We love a happy ending.

I had just moved to Japan and didn't speak or read Japanese at all. I was riding on the Tokyo subway with a friend when they made an announcement, stopped at a station and everyone from our car got off. We didn't think much of it, since there were very few people on the train at that point. The train pulled away from the station, drove on for a few minutes, then turned into a different tunnel and stopped. Then all the lights went out. Clearly they had just told everyone to get off the train, and we didn't get it. We didn't have cell phones or speak the language, and just as we were resolved to spend a few hours in the dark, a metro employee came walking through the door with a flashlight. Think we scared him pretty good, but at least they turned the lights back on and took us to a station. Needless to say, our short time lost in the tunnel gave me quite a bit of incentive to study the language...

That is rather terrifying.

My mother was very smart, but had the worst sense of direction of all time. My sister claims that once,when they were driving through Florida, Sis took a nap and Mom missed Miami -- and I believe her! In the mid-1960's, Mom and I took a trip to Monticello and stopped for lunch in Culpeper then a sleepy small town, nothing like what it is oday. We ate in a small restaurant and then I wanted to check out something n a nearby store. I told Mom we would meet at the car, which was parked a half block away. No Mom. It was such a small town that, once I started driving around, it didn't take me long to locate her walking out of town, clearly with no idea where she was going. That's the last time I ever left her alone in a strange location. I doubt aything too awful would have happened, but, as always, better safe than sorry.

OP should specify what part of the state they're going to. One interesting stop (not for scenery, however) is the Duke University Lemur Center, which has a variety of tours. Reservations required. BTW, my wife and I took the train from DC to Charlotte a month ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. And we arrived on time.

When I was a child in northern California in the 1950s, my parents enjoyed taking the occasional one-day or weekend family car-trip in our half of the state. My father always drove, but my mother was not the best of road-map readers, however. One time, exploring the Mother Lode (49er gold country) we wound up terribly lost on some small back-road onto which my mother had guided my father through a succession of incorrect directions. In exasperation my father groused that, for all he knew, we were gonna wind up in Timbuctoo. My mother and I began laughing uproariously, because we'd already noticed on the road-map that there was a gold rush ghost of that name nearby. Somehow, we managed in spite of my mother actually to get there, and I snapped a photo with my Brownie camera of my father standing in front of the town sign! See reference to confirm Timbuctoo's existence. P.S. From then on, even though I was only about 10 years old, I took over as the family's designated navigator, as I was already a much better map-reader than my mother.

Wish I knew when they were going to travel or what budget they were on. With Sequoia/Kings Canyon there isnt much in terms of lodging in the park. The options are in Visallia or Fresno. DEpends on how much hiking you do, you could do those parks in 1-2 days. Yosemite...there are 3 parts of the park. The southr part not far from Fresno that consists of the high sequoia trees, the Yosemite valley, anf Toulume Meadows to the north and the only through road over the mountains. Sequoia for one day, the valley 2 days, Toulume 1 day. With Yosemite lodging...you either pay the park lodging or you have a 45 minute drive outside the park. Ideally if you can make a reservation to stay in the park's valley floor that would be better. You do Toulume either from lake tahoe to Yosemite or from Yosemite to lake tahoe. By going this road you will hit 395 which take you up to Tahoe. Depending on when you are traveling you could also do day trip white water rafting trips.

I'm interested in cruising to Alaska Is late August too late in the season to see whales and other wildlife?

Not sure about this, having not cruised to Alaska. Chatters, what do you say?

We have been to Tuscany many times, but this time we would like to rent a villa for a group of 6 and be close to the vineyards. There are many sites available to do so. Any recommendations as to which one is better and any area, etc etc

Once again, we need outside help for this. Folks?

Hi! I am getting married on Sept. 8, and we are trying to figure out where to go for our honeymoon. We would like to leave within a couple days of the wedding and use American Airlines miles. We would like a destination that has a beach but also has other things to do--hiking, snorkeling, a town to explore. We do not want to just sit at a resort for a week. We wanted to go to Fiji, but we can't get there on American miles. We have about 300,000 miles. Thanks!

And Tom has weighed in on that question:

I'm recommending the kayak exercise to all my antique buddies with bad backs. I saw plenty of alligators on the drive into Everglades City -- in the canals beside the roads and, unfortunately, squished on the side of the road being feasted on by buzzards. But out on the barrier
island/mangrove ecosystem where we paddled, it was very salty water, and gators need fresh water. Crocodiles live around there, but are rare. We did here some weird barking/croaking type sounds at night -- but we weren't sure what that was.

We spent an entire week just in Istanbul and never ran out of things to do. We took day trips to Ortakoy and to Kadikoy and enjoyed both. We also had a Turkish bath which was quite the experience. We found a place that allowed couples (and families) to have the bath together, rather than be separated by gender. This was great for us so that we could giggle together, make wild eyes as buckets of cold water were thrown over us, and so forth. Quite the experience for sure. Check out the Istanbul Eats website for food suggestions - we borrowed a copy of the book and found some great restaurant recommendations.

And also check out Tom Sietsema's Istanbul story from last year.

Summer means longer daylight hours but not warm weather. Take heavy duty rain gear, since there are huge rainstorms that will blow umbrellas inside out. Take fleeces, layers, skid resistant footwear that will dry quickly or repell water.

Driving from DC to Jackson would be 3 very long driving days. I would suggest driving along I-70 where you can stop in and along the way stop at Rocky Mountain NP and Aspen before treking north to grand Teton and yellowstone. On the way back go through the black hills of SD and see Mt Rushmore, Wind Cave NP, Custer SP, and Badlands NP before returning.

Hi there. I'm headed to Madrid and Barcelona next week (three nights each) and would love hotel recommendations in both cities! Don't need extra large rooms or anything too fancy - just a safe, clean place to sleep with helpful, English-speaking staff. Also, would love advice on train travel between the two cities and any other recommendations, beyond the usual tourist spots. BTW, I'm a single, mid-30s woman traveling alone. Will be running a 10K through Madrid, but that's the only solid planning I've done so far. Thanks!

Here is a Going Our Way column on Spain from just a couple of years ago that should answer your questions handily. Even offers hotel recommendations.

I will be spending a day in LA next week. I am thinking of maybe going to Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Do you have any suggestions on what to do there besides lie on the beach?

Santa Monica's pier is kind of fun. I also enjoy bike riding along the path that runs along the beach there. The Getty Villa in nearby Malibu is lovely. If you're a shopper, Santa Monica's Third Street Promanade is a happening place. 

One issue with cats could be that a lot more people are allergic to them than to dogs. So if you have a cat dropping its dander and hair somewhere it could be a bigger problem.

I will have two free Days in Bangkok soon. Any suggestions on what not to miss? I love to walk around and experience the city and try good food. I am visiting the grand palace and a few temples with a group on other days.

Alas, Andrea's our Bangkok expert, too. We did have this Going Our Way column in 2009 that might give you some tips. And of course, the chatters?

We did ours in Costa Rica and loved it. Had everything: snorkeling, hiking, lazy beaches, all-inclusive resorts, wildlife, etc. Relatively cheap, safe, friendly population. We took Continental there, but I'm sure you could get there on AA. Bonus: no jet lag, takes less than a day to get there from most places (we were flying from CA).

I just recommended this to a friend. I think people who have never been there don't think it's as nice and amazing as it is. It is nothing like Las Vegas, Miami, or Orlando. It really is a paradise, and we're so lucky it's part of the US!

Stop at Carhenge in Western Nebraska (Alliance, to be specific). Off the beaten path but the kids will think it's neat. And the chocolate lab will be able to run around a bit, too.

early Ocotober is Albuquerque's annual balloon festival. In terms of other places to go and see....in early october you can see some fall colors in the north. Some options to travel to are Acoma Pueblo, Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde NP and Sand Dunes NP in Colorado.

I have to disagree a bit- I loved Prague, but there were definitely times it paid to get out of the throngs of tourists visiting all of the "must-see" places. Actually, it worked well to hit up one of the big attractions (e.g., castle, Jewish quarter) in the morning, then do something more low-key in the afternoon. Some of our favorites were: Vysehrad, Letna Park and beer garden, and the Strahov monestary brewery. Some great places to eat in Vinohrady, too (we stayed up there at the awesome Czech Inn). Have fun!!

Disagree away! That's what makes the chats interesting. Thanks for your tips.

Is there a 'de minimis' level of change that would prompt a refund? Hours? Days? So far it's been several hours the same day, or a much longer layover. Thanks

The only airline contract that I'm aware of that does this is United, and the change time, if I'm not mistaken is, three hours or more. Put differently, your departure or arrival time would have to change by more than three hours in order to get a refund.

I'm trying to plan an August trip for three couples located in Boston, New Jersey, and Baltimore--no one seems to want to drive more than 5 hours, and we have a 3 month old in tow. Any suggetions for a suitable location for a long weekend? A beach or a lake would be nice, and each couple can spend up to $350 a night for a nice hotel.

If you're looking for more of a resort setting that a city adventure, take a look at Woodloch Pines in the Poconos. Spring Lake, N.J. is also very nice if you prefer beaches to lakes. 

Info and travel details here.

Thanks!

Hi, I'm thinking of visiting family and friends throughout the midwest this summer. i"m thinking of rentig a car in DC and returning it in Chicago. How much more expensive is that likely to be than a roundtrip rental? And are there still services that look to match peple trying to get their cars t another city with people willing to drive those cars? Thanks!

It'll be a lot more expensive dropping the car off in Chicago. As for the driveaway companies, they still exist, but they usually demand that you drive rather quickly from point A to point B. But you could give that a look - search under the word driveaway.  

Way back when, my friend and I were working in different Eastern European countries. We planned to meet up in Munich during vacation and found train schedules that got in at almost the same time. My train was horribly late and I didn't really expect my friend to still be waiting for me at 2:00 a.m. And she wasn't. However, we had absolutely no Plan B for meeting up, not even a hotel picked out. The next day, I went back to the train station to see if there was a message or something from my friend, but no luck. Out of ideas, I asked someone where the nearest Chinese restaurant was; when I walked in, there was my friend! Chinese food was one of the things we both missed most in our host countries, so meeting up there was "just short" of a miracle.

I remember the good old days when airlines changed their schedules just twice a year on a predictable schedule, and had no problem flying half-empty allowing us to have an entire row of seats to oneself. Now they have capacity controls that ensure every flight is full; I went through this recently trying to get to NY from Chicago on a Saturday morning - they scrubbed the whole schedule and tried to put me in an afternoon flight. I ended up going to Newark on Fri. evening instead. For the venter - instead of Cozumel, make them give you a ticket to Cancun - the ADO bus runs from the airport to Playa del Carmen every hour, and the bus terminal is a block from the ferry that is a 30 minute cruise to Cozumel. Total Travel time should be about 2-1/2 hours with good connections, and total cost is about $25. There will be many, many more flights and routes in to Cancun, so you won't be impacted by cancellations.

If you do go, there is a quirky 50s-era motel that is made entirely from a single redwood tree. Can't recall the name, but I'm sure google can find it.

On a few of your replies you mentioned places that have some restrictions from rental cars. On the big island the drive up to Mauna Loa is a road that they say you arent to drive on. same true with getting to Chaco Canyon in NM. There is limited roadways into the location. Its mainly gravel.

I was by myself in Paris (the first time I had ever traveled alone btw) and had booked a room in the Left Bank through the booking service at the train station. They managed to circle the wrong street on my map. I had to be at the hotel by a certain time or I'd lose my reservation. I wandered the left bank for about an hour, getting more nervous. Finally I walked into a very nice restaurant and asked in my worst french "ou est hotel blah blah". The owner grabbed my bags and told me to get into his car. He dropped me off. So much for the hostility of the French with respect to tourists.

A friend and I were on foreign study in Spain, and traveling the rest of Europe by train on Christmas break. We were supposed to be picked up in a small town in Poland by a family friend. Got there, called. The person who answered the phone spoke only Polish. Asked for the friend, but couldn't understand the answer. Waited a while, caled back. And English speake told us to come to the house. Got a taxi. Taxi drive drove us out of town, got completely lost, dropped us off. At night. In January, in rural Poland. We wandered the neighborhood for an hour, knocking on randon doors and pointing to "where is" in the guidebook, the address, and saying the friend's name. Eevntually a door opened, a guy ushered us in, and took us to an upstairs room, closed the door, and left. Eventually it turned out that was the friends house, and she had been called away. But it was a bit of a scary experience, though the people were wonderful!

All right, that does it for today's chat. Thank you for stopping by, and for all your great tips and stories. Lots of fun anecdotes, but the winner today will have to be the person who found their friend at the Chinese restaurant in Munich. Send your name and mailing address to travel@washpost.com. We'll be back next week -- same time, same place. Until then, happy travels!

In This Chat
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
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