Talk about Travel: the Europe issue

Mar 17, 2014

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Good afternoon, travel enthusiasts. It is yet another snowy Monday here in Washington, so if you haven't had a chance yet to peruse our Europe issue from this weekend, now is definitely the time to do so. Editor Joe ate his way through a Paris neighborhood with Patricia Wells, and we visited equally dreamy Lisbon and Fossano, Italy. Then there was wine in Switzerland and vermouth in Barcelona, as well as a gorgeous Spanish coastal town. It all made me want to hop a plane across the Atlantic.

What are your pending Europe travel plans? My favorite itinerary will get a little prize.

Now let's get started!

Bonjour! Husband and I are going to France next year for our anniversary. Right now Aer Lingus has a good rate from Boston with a stop in Dublin. I'd be pretty happy to spend a day in Dublin on the way over! Is there usually an extra charge involved in spending a one-night stopover for international flights?

If your itinerary includes the overnight, then you don't pay extra for that stay in Dublin. And on some trans-Pacific flights, the carrier will allow a stopover in Hawaii or Auckland. However, if you are breaking up the flights to include a night in Dublin, you might have to pay extra, since you are essentially booking two different flights. I suggest calling the airline with your specific itinerary and try to work out an arrangement.

We'd been looking forward to our April trip to St. Martin for months, then last week heard from a friend about a mosquito-borne virus outbreak there (the kind of virus that comes with fever and weeks of swollen, painful joints--yikes). I found out that there have been more than 900 confirmed cases on St. Martin and 2K reported/suspected but not confirmed. There aren't any official travel restrictions and they are spraying the bejeesus out of the island, but the CDC and WHO advise using Deet spray and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Not really the relaxing vacation we'd envisioned. We punted and switched (thanks, Costco Travel!) to an all-inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya (a first for us, and I'm not sure all-inclusive is my cup of tea, but it will be fun anyway, esp. for the kids). So, point 1 is check the health stats in the Caribbean before you go there and point 2 is what do I need to know heading into six days at a Mexican all-inclusive? Water precautions, sights to see off-campus, etc? Thanks!

Did you have travel insurance or did Costco just agree to change your plans without charging a penalty? Chikungunya virus has been reported on St. Martin and other Caribbean islands. The CDC has published a map of where it has been reported.  As for Riviera Maya, you don't need to do too much advance planning. The resort will offer off-campus tours, but if you are interested in seeing Mayan ruins or going snorkeling in cenotes, you'll save time by hiring your own taxi and/or tour. We used a company called Alltournative that did a good job. Your resort will likely offer filtered water that is safe to drink.  

Any insight as to why nonstop flights to Chicago for early May are double what they typically are at $430+. In 9 years of traveling there on an irregular basis I've never paid more than $250 for the flight. Thanks!

Really, $430? Out of Washington? I just did a flexible search on Kayak for May and saw flights starting from around $300. Also be sure to check Southwest separately, because it won't show up on Kayak and other aggregator sites. Nonstops to Midway in early May are also running about $300. Sounds not terrible to me.

This summer my family is flying in to Brussels, then going to Bruges and Paris. We will have about 6 hours with a guide in Brussels before transferring to Bruges. What do you recommend that we see?

By guide, do you mean a person, or a book? If it's a person, I imagine they'll know what to show you. But anyway, you must of course see the Grande Place, which is a truly beautiful square, just gorgeous with the stunning Gothic buildings. Be sure to find the Manneken Pis -- the statue of a naked little boy urinating -- off the Place -- its the symbol of Brussels and a must-see. Have some Belgian chocolate (there are shops everywhere)! You'll want to take in the Atomium, the giant model of an iron crystal that was built for the 1958 world's fair, and the Mini-Europe park next door, which features scale models of famous buildings from all around Europe. The Cinquentenaire Park is also lovely, with its arc de triomphe. If you're into churches, visit St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, or Koekelberg Basilica, is a fantastic Art Deco shrine.

Other thoughts, chatters?

It's been a few years but we loved the Amaan Kendwa bungalows. It's on a quiet beach in a small town. Very nice -- and cheap! There's several other little "hotels" on the beach, each with their own restaurant. And you can walk to a neighboring town for more-- just be sure to check the tide because the beach disappears during high tide.

Thanks for this recommendation. You all really have been everywhere!

I've done a lot of Western Europe already, so this fall, a friend and I plan to visit Croatia to check out Dubrovnik and some other coastal areas (maybe islands?!). Additionally, either on the way there or the way back, we plan to stop in Venice, because while we both have been to Italy before, neither one of us has been to Venice. I've already chosen a completely over the top Venetian hotel with Venetian glass everywhere and its own water taxi!

This one has my approval!

My next trip will be (knock on wood) to the UK - first spending some days in London with friends, then, to celebrate weight loss and physical fitness gains, hiking either the Cleveland Way trail or part of the SW Coast Path that hugs the coast in Cornwall. I've been on tiny portions of them before, but I should be able to do daily double-digits of miles by then. Roar!

More power to you!

Pending Europe travel plans are to fly to Barcelona next May, spend a couple of days with a dear friend and my fairy god-daughter, then hop to Leon to spend two weeks walking a portion of the Camino to Santiago. Then fly to Paris for a couple of days to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary before returning home. Whew!

That sounds epic. And to see your "fairy god-daughter." Cute.

Hi team! My sister and I are planning to visit New Orleans next month and we are so excited. We are considering using Airbnb, Vrbo or another such site to arrange lodging so we can experience something with a little more character than a hotel. Any tips for a good experience, both with those sites in general, and/or in New Orleans? Thanks.

I have used Airbnb in several cities, including renting an Airstream in Austin. I have had positive experiences each time, and love the feeling of belonging, even when I am so obviously a tourist.

When choosing a place, decide on whether you want your own place or to share with a roommate (the latter is cheaper, but the former is more liberating). Also chat with the owner/renter about specific details, such as location, amenities, parking, etc. And make sure you read the small print regarding cleaning fees, cancellation policies, etc.

I have never used VRBO but be weary of too-good-to-be-true deals, and only pay by credit card, if possible, so that you have a safety net. For both companies, check guests' comments and ratings.

My suggestions: jazz in the French Quarter, the New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpture (take the trolley there) and City Park, New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (sort of cheesy but fun), Southern Food and Beverage Museum (currently relocating to a new address), and ice cream at the Creole Creamery (flavors include Cucumber Dill and Creole Cream Cheese w/ Wild Blueberry – Pecan Cornbread).

If anyone is thinking about visiting Poland, I'd like to share our somewhat recent(2010) experiences there. We took 9 days and went to Warsaw and Krakow. Warsaw seemed more modern, like a typical large city. But there were a lot of reminders of the war (Ghetto uprising, etc). We walked around the city a lot, Lazienki Park was nice. It has a large statue of Chopin, the Palace on the Water, and Roman Theater with a TON of peacocks wandering around. We missed out on the Historical Museum of Warsaw unfortunately, but we did spend a good amount of time in the Market square. Oh and a couple of our group wanted to make sure they got to a Catholic church service, so we were excited to see that when we went past a church there would be a service in about an hour. What are the odds of that? Well after being in Poland about 2 days we found out that the odds are pretty good! Most of the people there are Catholic, and they seem to have services every day, multiple times of the day. We also happened to be there a couple weeks after the tragedy of them losing their President in a plane crash. We actually saw his casket in Wawel castle (below). Krakow seemed more aged, which actually is a little illusory since that city was absolutely destroyed in the war and rebuilt later to look like it was before. We saw the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Wieliczka Salt Mine, and the Wawel castle. The salt mine was particularly fascinating to me, I have to admit I didn't know that was a way to get salt! But there are amazing sculptures inside. The saddest part of the trip was of course touring Auschwitz. I was afraid I would be crying the whole time but at some point it is just so overwhelming, you start to get numb. Oh and I don't know if things have changed since we were there, but the prices were also very low for food/etc.

Thanks for sharing! (Though I wonder why now?) That's quite the pitch for Poland, which you don't have to sell me on, since it's my heritage and I've been there many times. I must correct you, however, on one point -- Krakow is NOT a rebuilt city. It escaped the war relatively unscathed, thank goodness, and everything you see there is absolutely authentic, and much of it hundreds of years old. Perhaps you confused it with the Old Town in Warsaw, which the Nazis completely leveled in WWII, and which was in fact rebuilt from scratch according to the original plans, so that it's a perfect replica of the original.

Does anyone know of a good way to get from DC to EWR Airport that isn't via Amtrak or flying? Amtrak is much more expensive ($120 o/w!) than I was expecting. Do any of the DC-NY buses stop at Newark?

Bolt Bus stops in Newark, at Penn Station. From there, it's a 5-6 minute ride on the NJ Transit train to the airport.

My husband and I will be cruising out of Venice, Italy in September. Can you recommend a pre-cruise hotel that is reasonably priced?

Chatters?

I just made hotel reservations for a trip to Wales and England starting on Labor Day weekend...and got the last two rooms available! Usually when it comes to flying, I dance the Kayak/Orbitz/Travelocity dance, going back and forth trying to figure out the sweet spot of early enough to get a decent seat but late enough to get prices while they're low, and I'm not too fussy about times and airlines. This time, though, there's a particular flight I want, United's once-a-day non-stop between Dulles and Manchester. Given all the givens--Labor Day weekend flying, only one flight on the given day, etc.--should I go ahead and buy my ticket all these months in advance, or wait? The cheapskate in me can't believe I'm even thinking of buying full-priced already. The nervous Nellie in me can't believe I'm putting it off, given the close shave I had with the rooms this morning.

Cheapskates need to be flexible. If your heart is set on specific flights on specific dates, buy. There are some sites that will alert you if fares drop, such as Yapta, and some promise reimbursements if you buy and the fare goes down, such as CheapAir.  You can also view seats on United's Web site to find out how many are still available on the flights you want -- if the flight is empty, there is still a chance for lower fares. 

Hi gang! My husband and I would like to take a long-weekend getaway sometime in May. We live in the DC area, and don't want to drive more than 4 hours max--and less would be ideal. We're looking for something low-key and relaxing; main activities will be reading, relaxing, sleeping in, maybe shopping, and possibly going out to eat (although we'd be up for staying in a rental with a ktichen and cooking ourselves). Beautiful scenery is a must. I'll be 7 months pregnant so not interested in wine tasting or strenuous activites. We'd love to go to a lake or nearby beach but don't have any ideas--your thoughts? Deep Creek Lake, Lake Anna, the Eastern Shore? I am not familiar with any of the close-in destinations around DC. Thanks!

Both Deep Creek Lake and the Eastern Shore are good ideas. I've been to both, and I can endorse them both. If you want an even shorter drive, I'll throw a recommendation out there for the Brandywine Valley. I just got back from a weekend there. The scenery was beautiful, just like you asked for, and there are plenty of small towns with shopping. You can also shop well at Winterthur, one of several Dupont estates in the area. We stayed at Hamanassett Bed and Breakfast (review coming soon!). Perfect spot for relaxing, and the nearby town of Media is cute with plenty of dining options.

We are planning a trip to England and Scotland next summer. Our son will be six by then, and we're so excited to introduce him to these countries and his heritage. My husband and son are rail enthusiasts, so I imagine that a couple of train trips will be involved in our trip. We will probably do a loop tour of England and up into Scotland and back down. My favorite city in England is York--it's such a microcosm of England. The medieval city walls are still intact and we plan to walk them again. I'm preparing our son for lots of castles and such by reading books and watching movies about the Vikings, King Arthur, and Robin Hood to capture his imagination. I have many school friends in England and Scotland and am really looking forward to seeing everyone. Saving my pennies now...

This sounds lovely. In case you need inspiration, here's a story we had on York and another on Scotland's West Highland Line.

Hi! I will be traveling on the west coast next month and will have three days to spend in San Francisco, where I've never been. I will not have a car while I am there. Other than the obvious (Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, etc.), any recommendations for things to see or do while I'm there? I will be there mid-week. Things to do, places to eat? I am staying right in the middle of the city with easy access to public transit. Thanks!

Have some dim sum in Chinatown, and some chocolate in Ghirardelli Square. Visit Alcatraz. There are some great museums, including the modern art museum and the cable car museum. Spend some time in Golden Gate Park, stand on the Haight and Ashbury. Visit the farmers markets in the area between Fishermans Wharf (which you should also visit) and the Marina. You can eat at a number of the stands, plus there are restaurants nearvy. Here's a piece we ran on the reviving Dogpatch neighborhood that will also give you some eatery ideas. What else, chatters?

Our food critic, Tom Sietsema, recently shared his picks for San Francisco. Here's the piece.

Bulgaria --- to be Godparents to the daughter of a dear friend we know from London, who will return to Bulgaria for the baptism so her and her SO's whole families can be there. It's a small world, getting even smaller every day.

I love the Brandywine Valley (Longwood Gardens is fabulous) but I'll also suggest Berkeley Springs. I've rented cabins from Berkeley Springs Cottage Rentals on several occasions and the state park just outside of town has a great lake for sitting with a picnic.

Good thought.

We understand that in Normandy at Point du Hoc, visitors can sometimes participate in raising and retiring the colors. My husband and another traveling companion are Vietnam  veterans and Retired USMC Colonel and navy Captain, respectively. Any suggestions for ensuring their participation in this great honor?

I have not heard of this at Point du Hoc. I understand that they do perform the lowering of the colors at Omaha Beach each afternoon, but don't believe they invite visitors to participate. Any chatters know differently?  

My mother and I are going to design our own bike tour from Prague south and hitting Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. We'll hit several UNESCO sites and sleep in both smaller towns as well as the big cities. Since that region is relatively flat, it'll remind us of our frequent bike trips around the US midwest. The sites will undoubtedly be more majestic.

I really like the idea of a bike tour -- will make you feel much less guilty about indulging in European pastries.

Funny you should ask about European travel plans today. A few hours ago I booked my flights for a trip to Croatia in May. I'm meeting a small group of friends for a few days in Split, then we'll breeze through Pakenica and Plitvice Lakes National Parks on our way to Istria. We're doing a self-guided walk across the top of Istria in 5 days, from Buje, near the coast, to Lovran, going through Momjan, Motovun, Hum and Buzet. By happy coincidence, we'll be in Istria for Wine Day. Then we'll take the public bus to Zagreb, from where we fly home. I speak several languages and usually travel to countries where I can get by -- this trip will be an exciting challenge. I wonder how many Croatian words I will be able to learn.

So much Croatia talk here of late! If you all are any indication, it's getting to be a hot destination.

Last week you told a chatter not to miss Split. I disagree. It's fine for an afternoon but we would not have been able to spend much time there. I much preferred Dubrovnik. As for islands I'd pick Hvar. Yes it's known for nightlife but we loved walking along the beach, hanging out in the town square, touring the island. And you can take a boat to nearby coves, etc. One thing I would not miss in Croatia is Plitvice Lakes National Park. It's amazing.

Appreciate your insight.

I will be spending 2 days in Capetown in September and am seeking recommendations of tour companies. I realize I could do much on my own but would like to see as much as possible. I already know to go to Table Mountain in the morning....do you have any recommendations of tour groups or other tips? Thank you!

West Cape Tourism lists tour operators that operate in that area. And the Viator Web site also has a good selection of tours. Any chatters have a favorite tour operator? 

Seems like a snowy day is a good day to ask this question: I'm planning a trip to Hawaii later in the year. We'll be staying with relatives in Honolulu for most of the time, but would like to take a side trip to another island. Maui? Kauai? Molokai? Big Island? Not into surfing or much snorkeling -- sights, easy hikes, and good food are more our speed. I went to Maui and Kauai about 15 years ago and was blown away by the physical beauty of the islands, and really enjoyed driving around and doing the bike-down-a-mountain ride, but this will be my wife's first time. What would you recommend? Thanks much!

You can't go wrong with any of these islands.

I am a fan of the Big Island, because of Volcanoes National Park and the array of state parks, including Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots at Wailuku River State Park. Plus, you have the charming towns of Hilo and Puna. Maui is great for the drive to Hana and Haleakala National Park. Though I am not a fan of the built-up towns overwhelmed with honeymooners' resorts. Kauai is worth the trip just to see Waimea Canyon, the so-called Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

I am very excited. We are off to Paris for the first time in late April. I am reading all I can get my hands on. We will be there for a week with another couple. I am interested in shopping recommendations. Thinking of decorative items, Provence fabric/linens, etc. Always looking for a deal. Also, any good restaurant recommendations. We are staying near the Odeon and would prefer charming cafe-type places rather than uber pricey 5 Star places.

One thing I've never spent much time doing in Paris is shopping. Chatters, where are your favorites shops for decorative items, etc.?

Loved the story on Lisbon. My family went there this past summer and were mesmerized. Perhaps it is my long-ago Portuguese roots, but I know the feeling the author wrote of. Hard to get the city, and the country, out of my heart and mind! And the people are simply wonderful.

So glad the story spoke to you!

I'm a single woman in her late 20s and I'm looking at solo tours because my family worries when I travel alone. I really don't care where I go, but I'd like to go somewhere for 5-10 days on a guided setup that isn't geared for retirees or luxury travellers -- any recommendations?

There are so many tour companies. Any single women travelers have suggestions? Just to throw at least one out there -- the Sierra Club's trips sound pretty cool. (You do have to be a member to take a trip, but memberships are inexpensive.)

I'm the Dublin-stopover-Paris poster, but now I see I should mention my itinerary! Our trip will be next January. It is our 25th wedding anniversary and the last time we were in Europe was Portugal on our honeymoon. Husband is a huge history buff so we are going to spend a couple of days in Paris and then visit the Normandy coast and the WWII historical sites. This makes me happy because I will be able to eat French seafood to my heart's content and maybe skip a battlefield for non-war-related looking around.

Best Western Hotel Olimpia. I stayed there pre- and post-cruise. Easy access. Just a couple set of stairs / bridge from Piazzale Roma. Would stay again to visit Venice even without a cruise. As good or as nice as hotels I've stayed at near St. Mark's Square.

Excellent, thanks.

I'm not a shopper but I remember seeing lots of cute shops around Notre Dame. Last time I was in Paris (outside of CDG) I stopped in a few to buy bread and cheese and fruit for my train ride to Venice. :)

I misspoke earlier in my question re raising/retiring the colors at Point du Hoc vs Omaha Beach. Reason for my question - a friend who was the only American in a tour group last year was asked to participate.

Your best bet would be to get in touch with the American Battle Monuments Commission, which oversees the American cemetery. 

I am very glad to see some semblance of cracking down on huge carry-on luggage. I have not had problems with space in the overhead bins, but do object to people thinking they can expect others to actually do the "heavy lifting" of their overstuffed luggage; so many times I have seen someone enlist help to get the huge bag into the bin. And then the hold up passenger loading/unloading trying to get the thing in or out! If you can't manage it yourself, check it!

I agree 100 percent!

I recommend Adventures in Good Company which is for women only and the Sierra Club's national trips as well as volunteer vacations.

Both GAdventures and Intrepid Travel are popular for solo women travelers because they don't have a single supplement. They go to all sorts of awesome places, from US to Europe, to remote parts of Asia and Africa. It's not all singles on the tours, and they tend to be more flexible than a lot of arranged tours because you don't necessarily eat together every day and some parts of the trip are add-on so there can be some time on your own if you want, or not if you don't.

Thank you!

I'm a solo female traveller in my mid 50s and have been solo female traveling since my late 20s. I'm sure you can find some good tours / providers, but... don't let fear stop you! Take some care with your destinations (some places wouldn't be as safe for solo females than others) and just use common sense once there, but I have never blundered into a dangerous situation on my solo trips - and the freedom to go and do and change my mind has been wonderful! In fact, now that I think about it, it's been only the ones where I had fellow travelers where things have gotten dicey...

We are a group of six child-free 30-somethings ditching our families for the Christmas holiday. We'd like to go somewhere warm where we can just relax and hang out. We are a mix of gay and straight, some single and some married, so looking for a place that would be amenable for all of us. Are there places that cater to adults but are not couple-oriented?

I think you need to narrow this down a little to get a useful answer. By warm, do you mean tropical? Are you looking to rent a villa together or are you thinking more of a hotel/all-inclusive? Is cost a consideration? Key West comes to mind, as does the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. 

Ooops. I hadn't even read your food lovers guide story before I posted my question...... how timely. Thanks

Yes, at least you'll know where to go for food items!

I have a multi-destination business trip that ends in Munich, a city to which I have never been. I can stay an extra day (on my own dime). Should I stay? Anyone have recommendations for one day there?

Yes, stay! Munich is lovely. You must visit the Marienplatz and see the Rathaus Glockenspiel. If you can be there at 11 a.m., that's the hour when it chimes and the show begins, the large wooden figure move and dance, and the rooster crows. Even if you can't see the show, the square is beautiful. Go inside the Frauenkirche. Then have a beer at the nearby Hofbrauhaus. Yes, it's touristy, but you have to do it. Take a stroll in the Englischer Garten. If you have enough time, visit the Pinakothek art museum (I like the Alte better than the Neue, but both are great). In the evening, I'd head for Schwabing, the so-called boho quarter.

I'd like to take my dog to the beach, or beach-like area. Is there anywhere within driving distance where we can walk on the sand by the water and dogs are allowed?

If you go before April 30, you can take Fido to Sandy Point State Park. There's also Calvert Cliffs State Park.

Someone last week asked about spending a week in Sydney. I just returned from Australia and New Zealand, and I think you don't need a week in Sydney. I suggest also visiting Melbourne, about 1 hour by air. The cities are quite different. So much to see in Oz!

HELLO, I'm taking my 15 year old granddaughter to San Francisco in late June. We'll be tourists. Can you recommend a moderately priced hotel (say $200 or less a night) in a safe neighborhood? I'd like to use public transportation.

I would look for hotels in these neighborhoods: Presidio, Richmond, Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf and Nob Hill. For hotels, check the online discounters, such as Hotels.com. For example, in late June, I am seeing the Serreno Hotel for $199 in Union Square, the Grant Hotel for $120 (also in Union Square) and Cornell Hotel de France for $167 (ditto). You might also consider renting an apartment through AirBnb.

Some friends told me they had problems with VISA card use in Britain because card readers look for a chip that US cards don't have yet. True? False? How much of an issue? I'm traveling to Yorkshire, Cumbria, Iona and Edinburgh in June and want to avoid problems.

Yes, we talk about this all the time! You're referring to the chip-and-pin system, which is widespread in Europe but not so much here. I wrote about the topic last year. Bottom line, you probably won't have too many problems. Most of the time, if people run into issues, it's at places such as train stations or gas pumps. But merchants should still be able to take your non-chip card. Have a little backup cash just in case.

Try the website journeywoman.com. Lots of resources for the solo woman traveler.

I would recommend the Rue de Rennes, which has a lot of French chain stores... Au Bon Marche is a department store that is quite expensive but has beautiful home goods and there are a lot of cheaper shops nearby. Also check out Monoprix which is sort of like a French Target for some fun budget friendly home items. The great blogger David Lebovitz has a blog post today with tips on French flea markets and rummage sales.

If you'll have kids with you, the Henri Georges Park Playground in Brussels is one of the best playgrounds we've played at, worldwide (and since our family's international excursions tend to focus mostly on parks and ice cream/bakeries, that is saying a lot).

We are traveling through France in early May on a Seine River cruise. Our intent is to leave the tour during the day of 11 May and travel to Mont St-Michel. Understand that it is about a 2.5 hour drive from Honfleur. Is a rental car our best option? If so, are reservations recommended and what rental agency do you recommend?

It's about a two-hour drive from Honfleur to Mont St. Michel (which is fabulous, btw), and yes, I do think a car is your best option. Train would take much, much longer. I don't think you need to reserve a rental in advance. If you're staying at a hotel in Honfleur, I would simply ask the concierge to arrange a rental car for you. Be prepared for a manual transmission, unless you specifically ask for an automatic, which can cost much more.

I am a young professional planning a tour of Italy: Milan, Florence, Rome and finally Positano. I have been trying to lower my expectations (they are usuaully rather high) for the quality of accomodation to make the trip more affordable, but I am finding it nearly impossible to find someplace to stay in Florence and Rome. Any advice?

Have you looked at Airbnb? My friends just returned from a tour through Italy and raved about the apartments they booked quite cheaply in Rome and Florence. In Florence, they had a sweet pad in the Ponte Vecchio. I am insanely jealous.

wIhen my husband and I stayed in venice for a few nights before a cruise in 2012, we stayed at the Palazzo Giovannelli. It's on the Grand Canal, but about a 15-20 minute walk to St. Mark's Square, so it's out of the big tourist district. It's very close to the St. Stae vaparetto stop, but we took the Venetian version of the super shuttle from the Venice airport right to the hotel's little dock - we didn't want to have to change boats with all our luggage. The hotel was reasonable (for Venice), had a great breakast included in the rate, and was near several good local restaurants. It was a great location for walking all over the city.

I went last May and shopped, shopped, shopped. All the good fabric stores are down the hill from Sacre Coeur basillica. Lots of bargain bins outside the stores. I really enjoyed the flea market in northern Paris; not the junky stores but the individual spaces/vignettes in the back with lots of vintage items. I stopped in several resale/consignment shops, but Parisian women are very tiny and I didn't fit in a lot of stuff (not that I'm huge).

Our next trip is to Ireland, which we planned with assistance from this chat a few months ago! We're doing an 8 day driving trip which concludes with a stay at Ashford Castle and a hawk walk.

So glad we could be of assistance!

Heading to Australia in a couple of weeks and will be in Melbourne for 4-5 days. We got an airbnb in the supposedly hip Fitzroy neighborhood. We may do a day trip to the Great Ocean Road, and figure there's tons of stuff to do in the city. But, is there anything in particular that you guys recommend as not-miss activities for two 30-something couples? Any restaurant recommendations would be awesome too if you have them (one couple is veg, the other loves bacon ... we'll probably be eating separately...).

Definitely visit Phillip Island, where you can visit the Koala Convervation Centre (don't believe their bad reputation; they are cuddly, just watch those claws!), take a wildlife cruise, and experience the ultimate Cute Penguin Moment, when the fairy penguins return home after fishing for food in the sea. The island also has wineries, fine restaurants, surfing beaches and more.

For restaurants, I defer to the chatters. since the dining scene is quickly changing and I have not been in years. Chatters?

I'm turning 30 this year and want to take a long weekend for my birthday with my husband. I live in Southern California (and live near the beach) and have traveled pretty extensively throughout the western US. Suggestions on a good 3-4 day destination, including travel time?

From Southern California, especially if you are close to LAX, there are lots of choices. You've likely been to Santa Barbara, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Yosemite, but all of these are easily doable in just three days. Or you could take a nonstop to New York  and hang out in Manhatttan for three nights. Mexico's Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is also a nonstop flight from Los Angeles.  Would need to know more about your interests to narrow it down. 

I was going to suggest Vancouver. 

I'm flying to a convention next month. Can you recommend any evening things for someone? I am a adventurous diner, arts patron and music fan.

Alas, you're a little too early for the new performing arts center slated to open in Orlando in November. And the old Church Street Station, my hangout in the early 90s, is still awaiting redevelopment, I believe, though there is apparently an improv club in part of it. Might be an evening for you. Otherwise, you could head up to Winter Park, about a half-hour north, which is a really lovely little town with restaurants, shops, museums and more. Or maybe the chatters know of something else. Folks?

Our neighbors have moved to Zimbabwe. We have been invited to visit. Can you recommend cheap routes? Also, can you recommend interesting things for a 13 year-old boy? How about a mature married couple?

As for getting to Harare, Ethiopian Airlines has the most direct slights, with one stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. South African Airways usually offers the cheapest flights, but with two connections.  Your friends will likely have something to say about an itinerary to match your interests that will doable from their home. Harare itself is not known as a huge tourism destination, although it does have some museums and galleries. 

A chatter last week asked about Savannah restaurants. I was there last May, and these were my favorites: Vics on the River and The Olde Pink House were tied for nicest upscale dining. Pricey, but wonderfully delicious. I also liked 1790, which is in an inn by the same name, and supposedly haunted. The meal was tasty, but the wine service was - odd. As in nobody in the whole restaurant knew anything about wines - "Oh, (name of person) does, but she's not in tonight." As in, not realizing white zinfandel and zinfandel are two different things. Very unusual for the price point. For lunch I had very tasty salads and scones at Gryphon Tea Room. And I did go to The Lady and Sons - i.e., Paula Deen's restaurant - when the line to Mrs. Wilke's Boarding House, a restaurant recommended by everyone, turned out to be ridiculously long. Definitely artery-clogging, and it's your call where you fall on supporting PD or not, but service was on the ball and efficient, and the food was definitely a prevalent style!

Great. I hope the Savannah traveler is tuned in again this week!

Joe's article regarding his trip to Paris brought back fond memories of my travels there. Ernest Hemingway referred to Paris as "a moveable feast". I agree with his assessment and Joe let readers know that Paris is STILL, " movable feast" thanks, I want to go back

Two words: nom nom.

What would you recommend as a low-stress European vacation I might have a chance to persuade my husband to take? He finds navigating foreign cultures and languages stressful, especially on our own. I have been lobbying for a river cruise or a trip to the UK (where he has been a couple of times for work in the distant past), but so far we've mostly been covering the US in detail (which is great as far as it goes).

A river cruise may be just the ticket. Several companies cater to American tourists, including Viking, Avalon and Uniworld. Or if you want to be a more independent, how about a few days in London followed by visit via train to England's Lake District? 

I was recently there and really enjoyed the Orlando Art Museum, though I'm not sure about evening hours. In the same little area as that is the Orlando Rep Theatre and a few other things that might be interesting.

Check out the Hostelling International hostels -- there are 3 and they are quite nice in good locations at very good prices.

Two adults will be traveling to France in late May. All travel will be by train except for four days in Normandy. I will be driving so what is the best way to handle insurance coverage since my coverage here in the states will not follow me there? Thanks.

You can get car insurance through the rental car company or a third party, such as Travel Guard. Also, check to see if your credit card company offers protection or coverage. You will need public liability insurance (part of the basic rate), collision damage waiver (CDW) and theft protection for the rental car. (Again, see if your credit card or home insurance covers any of these extras, such as theft.) Warning: The insurance can really add up.

Your Azores fan here: We're going to the islands again this year, and this time are planning to spend a week on Flores, the westernmost island in the archipelago; my grandparents were natives of the remote west coast of that remote island, and I've done enough genealogical research to be prepared to ask around if there are any distant cousins still there. From a strictly tourist perspective, if weather permits we also hope to take a boat trip across the channel to Corvo ("Crow") Island, the smallest island in the chain, with a population of barely 400 people (although, I've read, 1,000 head of cattle). The boat ride itself is said to be interesting, not only because of the accompanying dolphins but also because one gets coastal views of caves where the earliest settlers (15th century) lived during their first few years there, and later on where Barbary pirates hid out during their raids on the islands. The channel between the northern tip of Flores and the southern tip of Corvo was the scene of the British naval defeat memorialized by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem "The Revenge," which opens: "At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay..."

Well, we're coming in for a landing now. Thanks for your questions and your wonderful-sounding Europe plans which I envy. They all sounded great, but I'll award the prize to the person planning a bike trip starting in Prague. Please send your name and mailing address to me at becky.krystal@washpost.com.

Until next week, happy travels.

In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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