Talk about Travel

Mar 18, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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 afternoon, chatters! It’s a little dismal here in Washington today, but I’m dealing with that by just dreaming of visiting all those warm and sunny places we feature in this week’s Travel section – i.e., Mostar in Bosnia, the Amalfi Coast, and the Croatian island of Vis. They all sound fabulous, but I loved the idea of walking the Amalfi Coast. I’m a big walker; have hoofed it all over many major cities worldwide. My favorite recent walk was one in Paris, when we tramped from out hotel off the Champs Elysees to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, and got caught in a thunderstorm along the way! Tell us about your favorite walks on your travels, and best trek wins a prize.


Now let’s chat.

I went to Charles Town yesterday to see a play at the Old Opera House. It was a nice ride from Baltimore, much quicker than I expected. So, I'm wondering what else there is to see and do there (besides the casino). I wouldn't want to do any white water rafting, but are there other activities that are less scary but still fun/interesting? Thanks!

If not the casino,  how about the racetrack next door? It's really fun, I promise. But then, I'm a racing fan from way back. You could also do something historic, visit the old Jefferson County Courthouse, the original building where John Brown was tried for the raid on Harper's Ferry, then check out the Jefferson County Museum. For that matter, you could head to Harper's Ferry, which is only a few miles away and is lovely and offers a great history lesson. Then you can hike up the Maryland Heights across the river (there's a footbridge to take you there). What else, chatters?

I'm going to Vegas at the end of May and I really, really want to do an exotic car/track day. I know there are a couple of places, one that runs at the Speedway, but I found another that does a road course. Has anyone done one or both? I am interested in the road course, but they don't guarantee the cars. Any help is appreciated.

I've  raced my own car (a six-speed Cooper S) on the road course at Summit Point in in West Virginia, and I think that's way more challenging that a speedway. But I've  not done the exotic car thing in Vegas. Chatters? 

I have an 8:15 am domestic flight out of Dulles this Saturday. My understanding is that actual furloughs have not started, and that no actual furlough will start until after April 1. I'm hoping that getting there 90 minute before, as I always do, will be sufficient.

I just spoke with an airports spokesman and right now everything is opearating normally. The feds have not advised airports to change their recommendations about when passengers should arrive. You can find more details here.

Planning a trip to Paris at the end of September. Is it better to buy plane tickets now or wait? Air France seems to be the only airline with non-stop flights from DC. Do you happen to know if there are any others? Thank you!

In September, I'm seeing United and Delta also flying nonstop to Charles De Gaulle out of Dulles, but for my money, I'd fly Air France. My husband and I have flown the airline twice to Paris in the past four years, and it's been great. My husband prefers it for the food, which is actually good! And the fares are all identical at the moment -- I'm seeing $1303 today -- so there's no reason not to choose the French carrier that I can see. I'm also not seeing very many nonstop flights, so if I were you, I'd go ahead and buy my tickets now. With that few flights, it's unlikely that fares will go down, especially since September is still a very popular time to travel. If you want to wait just a bit, you can sign up for some fare alerts, but I wouldn't wait too long if I were you.

Has Canada joined in requiring chip-and-pin credit cards, or will our regular US credit cards work there? I'll be on an Alaska cruise in May. It ends in Vancouver, where I plan to stay a few days.

You should be fine. I've been to both Quebec City and Vancouver Island in recent years and used my American Express and Visa cards with no problem (except for when my card was frozen because I forgot to mention I'd be in Canada, but that's another story). Canadian merchants have been moving toward a chip-and-pin system, but they'll still accept our dinky magnetic strip cards.

While it may seen strange, I recommend Dr.Martens. I spent 10 days in Israel walking EVERYWHERE and my feet were never tired or painful. They have a non-slip sole and are super sturdy. They are a little pricy (over $100) but will last a lifetime. If you get a "Mary Jane,Cesca, Or Kara" style, they can easily double as dressy.

Great tip, thanks!

My husband and I usually plan our vacations well in advance, get the time off work and go. However, it seems we then see all these great last minute deals that we can't take advantage of since we've already committed time and money to another. So, we're thinking of just picking a random week to take off in advance and then scouring the deals as they come in and grabbing a good one. Question is: is there a time of year known for particularly good deals? We have a toddler, so the school calendar isn't an issue, but activities for little ones is. We're pretty open as long as the deal is a steal. Thanks!

You can typically find the best deals during off-peak times and right after the holidays, when most travelers are spent money- and energy-wise. Of course, off-seasons vary by destination. For example, you can often find deals in Florida and the Caribbean during the summer and hurricane season. Colorado is often cheaper in the spring and fall. Hawaii: late winter and early fall.  Europe: after the summer rush and before the holiday slam.

My advice: Pick a destination, then choose dates that don't overlap with holidays, school vacations or a prime activity, such as skiing. Then check the Web and tourism offices for specials.

All four articles by the freelancers were interesting, but I had to wonder about the writers, as two live in London, one in New York, and one is "based in Boston and New York." Are there no freelancers within 100 miles of D.C.? Thanks!

Of course there are, and we use them frequently. But we work with writers from all over. DC-area residency is not a requirement when the subject matter is not about the DC area. Don't you think that makes sense?

We are visiting France especially to see the Normandy beaches and D Day locations. We plan to spend two days in Rouen in order to see Giverny and Rouen. We still have two days to fill. Can you recommend anything that shouldn't be missed in that area. We have been to Paris and prefer to stay out of the city. Any recommendations??

Oh do see if you can get to Mont St. Michel. It's not much farther, and it's so worth a visit, and especially so if you spend a night on the island. It's positively haunting once most of the tourists leave and darkness descends and you have the place to yourself. The abbey and church at the summit are lit up magnificently, and since there are no motor vehicles of any kind, you  can almost feel yourself transported back to a distant time. You agree, don't you, chatters?

Help! I'd like to take a last minute vacation to somewhere warm the week after Easter. No, I'm unfortunately not in college anymore, so I'd like to avoid the spring-breaker crowd. Is that possible?

If you're willing to spend money, you'll avoid the spring breakers. Stay away from modestly priced all-inclusives in Cancun and Punta Cana. Don't go to Panama City, Fla. Any island that is offering cheap nonstop flights will be more attractive to college students. If you go to a nice hotel on St. Barts, for example, you won't be bothered by college students. And, if you want something closer to home,  there won't be any spring breakers in Naples, Fla.

Dear Travel Team -- Some time ago I asked about how TSA security deals with potential travelers who have to wear some kind of Ostomy Pouches. You sent me to the TSA guidelines , which I had already read, and which consist of bureaucratic blather that is useless in actually predicting what might happen in any particular situation. I am pleased to learn that having to wear a pouch -- not something that you would choose to do -- automatically makes you a terrorist and prevents you from flying, but individual stories cover such a wide area, that I can only conclude that the people at the security lines generally have no idea of how to treat pouch wearers. What I am asking today -- of you and your audience -- is for any individual experiences at Dulles and west coast airports that may be relevant here. Thanks in advance.

Chatters, please let us hear from you on this, as we on the flight crew just don't have the answer.

I'm hearing that because of the federal cuts, the whole airport experience is going to get slooow. How slow? My husband and I have an international flight out of O'Hare next month. Do we need to get there three hours early, instead of two? Could we be looking at delays for flights to take off, and if so, what happens if we miss our connecting flight because of it? We have a 1 hour, 45 minute layover in Stockholm before our final stop, and I'm getting worried that might not be enough time anymore.

Please see my earlier answer to chatter asking about when to arrive at the airport. Obviously, things could change between now and the time of your trip, but so far, airports haven't been hit by delays. (Keep in mind that the party line is that you should be at the airport three hours early for an international flight anyway.) If you miss your connecting flight, you'll have to work with your airline to get on the next one.

Anyone have experience at the Stockholm airport to allay concerns about this layover?

Gurus: My wife and I are lucky enough to be in Paris for 10 days the first part of April. In a couple of previous trips, all travel arrangements were set up. This time we have to get from CDG airport to a "downtown" apartment and back when we leave. Aside from train to Paris, then taxi, is there a better way? Are there car services which will do "airport to door" which aren't horribly expensive? The internet shows all kinds of possibilities, but it's hard to tell what's "legimate" from what's not. Also, any suggestions from you or the chatters about places to go outside the "usual" spots would be appreciated.

I've generally taken the bus from CDG, rather than the train. It's cheaper, for one, and they stop at various points in the city from which you can either walk to your hotel, if it's close enough, or grab a taxi. I don't know of any car services that will take you straight to your hotel, but I'd imagine they would be very pricey if they exist. A taxi will do that, of course, but it will cost you a minimum of $50. Plus tip, of course. Chatters, help us out again on this.

As for places to go outside the usual spots, I offer my traditional list -- Malmaison, the Musse de la Vie Romantique, the Victor Hugo House. I love the Hotel des Invalides, too, and the Pantheonl. And chime in again, chattesr.

About 20 years ago, or so, I visited Salisbury with two friends. In the tourist office we found a very sketchy map and description of a walk from Old Sarum outside Salisbury to Stonehenge - a walk of some 20 kilometers or so. As I said, the description was sketchy - like at farm xx, take the bridlepath on the lefthand side and so on. But the walk was beautiful and at a certain moment we saw Stonehenge, from very far away. It was impressive to walk towards the monument and watching grow larger and larger, all the while passing ancient burial mounds alongside our path. But what de description did not tell: at the end of the road, we were standing on one side of a very busy highway, and saw Stonehenge on the other side. So, against all common sense and all traffic rules, we crossed the highway (and survived, obviously) and visited Stonehenge - wich was a bit of a letdown after the trek. A few years later, I went back to Salisbury - this time with my niece who was 16 at the time. Contemplated to do that walk again, but didn't dare to. If the ever make a tunnel for the highway, I'd love to make the same walk again.

Sounds great. Except for the highway part, of course!

Hello. I'm going to Vieques Island, Puerto Rico in April for a few nights. I'd like to relax for most of the time but wanted to see if you have any suggestions on some more active things I can do (other than watersports--which I'm afraid of!). Any sightseeing I shouldn't miss? Thanks!

Vieques is very water-centric, so you might want to consider throwing on a life jacket and overcoming your fears on a (calm water) kayak tour. It's worth it --especially a night paddle in Phosphorescent Bay.

If I can't convince you to dip a paddle into the water, you can hike around the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge or take a horseback riding tour (Esperanza Riding Co. offers excursions). Also check with Vieques Adventure Co., which organizes a variety of outings, such as mountain bike nature tours.

Hi Travel Gurus. Looking for ideas for a girl's weekend somewhere convenient to or between DC and my friend who lives in Dallas. We've ruled out New Orleans and Florida for the most part. Are there any other places I'm not considering? I am not dying to go to many of the places in between, like Nashville or Montgomery, AL. Any ideas?

How about Atlanta? There's also Asheville, N.C.

Could you tell me why so many hotels use flat sheets instead of fitted sheets on their beds? All it means to me is that I will wake up with the bottom sheet in a twisted mass under me (and I don't toss much at night). Doesn't make for a comforable night's sleep.

My guess is that flat sheets are interchangeable, so it's easier for housekeeping to deal with all the sheets being the same. I have never experienced any problems with having flat, rather than fitted, sheets covering the mattress, and I do turn and toss. Chatters? 

Worth a trip to the Blue Lagoon?

I think the survey says yes, based on what people have told us. Anyone care to disagree?

Is really fun. It's very hilly, but you can take funiculars and elevator rides to get up the hills. The walk up through the Alfama to the Sao Jorge castle is really neat as well. I even heard some fado at one of the small cafes on the walk up to the castle.

Nice, thanks!

Going on a 5th anniversary trip with my poor wife who is pregnant with our 3rd child. I'm surprising her with a trip somewhere local - Charleston SC for an extended weekend at the end of April. Got someone to watch the kids for the weekend, so its just us! Besides sleeping in, any spots that we should check out? Places to stay, or eat? We're "foodies" (and "winos", but not for my wife this time for obvious reasons).

Charleston is a great food town: Top places to eat include Husk, FIG and Hominy Grill.

Deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick had nice things to say about the Fulton Lanne Inn.

This is too late for the March 11, chat, but here it is in case you can post it next week: Kanab, UT is the perfect place to stay for visiting Bryce, Zion and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Plus, you can visit Best Friends' Animal Sanctuary (trust me, you have to go--they give tours and the animals' have apartments nicer than my first one).  They even let you do sleepovers and "check out" a dog. Their site also lists local places to stay We rented a house on VRBO.com and there were several listed. Plus, lots of hotels. Many people make it a base. We flew into LV, NV and drove over--a nice drive.

Here you go, Utah traveler, if you're lurking or listening!

Hi - I know you can't see the future, but do you see rates going down for summer air travel? We would like to go to southern california in mid-July (either LA or San Diego), and I'm seeing 400/person. Any insight would be appreciated!

There have been sporadic sales on JetBlue, Virgin America and Southwest, which have spilled over to the so-called legacy airlines, but they're typically short-lived and very narrowly focused, applying only to Tuesday and Wednesday flights during a short time period. I haven't seen any good ones extend into summer yet.  Subscribe to the various airline's social media feeds (Twitter and Facebook), which sometimes offer exclusive sales. 

I felt like it totally lived up to the hype... at least to visit once. It's also very easy to visit en route to or from the airport, so should be easy to squeeze in even with a short trip. My only advice is to bring a bathing suit that you aren't too attached to. I felt like my suit was basically never the same, even after repeated washing. I also had to use some serious leave in conditioner for a few days after!

We have always bought insurance for cruises and other types of vacations. This year we are leaving from Baltimore (local) and the cruise total is $1855. Everyone is in good health and we don't feel like paying an extra $130 for insurance - are we wrong? We are retired and take several trips a year. Also, I have tried to find insurance companies that for an annual fee they insure all travel for the year. In fact, I read an article in the Post about this about 2 years ago. When I looked into it, it was not valid in Maryland. Do you have any information on why it is not valid. 

I have never bought insurance and so far have never needed it-- knock on wood. I guess I like to travel dangerously.

Going with or without it depends on your comfort level and any potential travel risks, such as hurricanes, sickness, etc. Check to see if your credit card covers any type of trip cancellations and if your health insurance applies to travel. Most people purchase travel health insurance for its emergency evacuation coverage, but if you are going to major ports, you won't need it.

(For my article on travel health insurance and staying healthy away from home, see here.)

I don't understand why you would not qualify for multi-trip insurance as a Maryland resident. For options, check InsureMyTrip.com, which shows several plans for Maryland residents.

Hi there! Looking to go a weekend road trip to celebrate an anniversary. I was inspired by a WaPo article a while back on winery, distillery and brewpub tours in the Virginia countryside. Do you know of any cute (& reasonably priced) inns or b&bs conveniently located to a couple spots mentioned in the article? We'd also be potentially interested in staying somewhere where we could easily go on a day hike or take in a cute town. Appreciate any help! Thanks!

Not far from Sperryville, in Luray, is the Mimslyn Inn, a gracious old grande dame that's been fairly recently refurbished and is quite reasonably priced. Luray is also a pretty cute town, so you could kill two birds with one stone right there. And it's where the Luray Caverns are, of course. Other thoughts, chatters?

This has been talked about quite a bit. How it will impact operations of the TSA or FAA depends on how it's handled. A safe bet in thT fed employees tend to take a week or two of vacation from Msy thru September every year. Agencies that have to continually staff plan for these and allocate resources for this. If the employees were allowed to do the furlough time when they would be taking vacation the impact would be much less. If they say everyone needs to do a day of leave without pay...which means the TSA would have a 20 % cut of staff per day.insted of 5 lanes open, only 4 will be open. If volume is high then it will be a major issue. Think of rush hour traffic and an accident blocks one land on a 5 lane highway. If this happens in mid day or overnight there is little impact.

Furloughs have not started but overtime is no longer permitted, so there are fewer people working any given shift. I would personally give myself a little extra time.

What are some of the best vacation destinations in May?

All right, you need to give us a little more to go on here. The world is a big place.

Read Maphead, by Ken Jennings? I finished it a few weeks ago, and it's a great book. It's, obviously, about maps, but there's tons of stuff about travel. All sorts of travel clubs that have 'checklists' of things to do and see all over the world (like clubs that count off visiting the highest point in each state, or where longitude and latitude lines cross, or 'very obscure' places, etc). I'm sure many of your readership would be intrigued.

Interesting, thanks!

I'm intrigued by this. Is most of the trip on walking paths free of motorized vehicles? How safe is such an excursion for a single female? Thanks for the great story!

I'm pretty sure the walking is along paths through the hills, where cars can't go. It sounds safe to me, but I can't vouch for certain, and our author is not available at the moment. Perhaps some chatter knows?

In the past several issues of Travel, you have talked about the chip-PIN credit cards. What companies offer them? I checked with my VISA provider Capital One, and the card is not offered nor, I was told, do they intend to offer one. They informed me that the current credit card could be used as long as I was dealing with a person but not at a free standing kiosk, such as one would find in a train station. We are planning on going to Europe this summer and would like to obtain one. Thank you.

Here's a list of cards from NerdWallet. As you'll see, companies are offering chip-and-signature cards, which work just like they sound -- you sign instead of punching in a PIN.

We are walkers when we go on vacation, and are lucky enough to have had wonderful strolls in many places. England, however, takes it to a different level with great paths that cross the island or skirt the sea in all sorts of different directions in all sorts of wonderful areas. My favorite moments were when I took a break to lunch while sitting near a nice (but not extravagant) home on a Cornish cliff - later, when I described the area at the B&B where I was staying, the owner said... "Well, it sounds like you had lunch in Kate Winslet's yard". But I most remember watching English TV and they had a mini-segment, almost like a public service announcement, on "What to do if you're walking/hiking and are accosted by a herd of cows." I thought that was the most amazingly silly segment to have between television shows, until two days later when I was walking and was accosted by a herd of cows. (If you're on the marked path there should be no bulls or very aggressive animals, and such was the case. They were just curious, and I got a bunch of great shots!)

So funny! Too bad you didn't have a chance to say hi to Kate. :-)

After an interminable bus ride next to snoring, obnoxious American tourists, my friend Katia and I arrived at Beachy Head and were immediately awed! The sheer drop of the cliffs, the bright sunshine, the courtesy of other visitors to allow everyone to take the photos they wanted to take were just amazing and I'd recommend this walk to EVERYONE! The few hours we spent wandering the cliff line, taking photos of flowers, the horizon and architecture the dotted the landscape behind us were some of my favorite of all the time I spent in England. Everyone we met was kind and generous, clearly enjoying the scenery and the peaceful atmosphere. The only small downer was the presence of the Beachy Head Chaplain patroling the edge, looking for potential jumpers (as it is the #1 spot for suicides in the UK and the edge has the memorial crosses to prove it). I'd endure that bus ride a million times to have that view again!

Thanks! Sounds like the UK is the place for walking!

Dear Washington Post: I was reserved on Northeast Regional train #194 from Alexandria, VA to Stamford CT at 11:49 on March 10. I arrived at the station 45 minutes early, alerted the station attendant that I intended to catch that train, and was waiting on the platform when the train arrived. Only one other passenger was waiting to board. I had told the station attendant that I wanted to board the Dining Car and he told me to stand in front of the Dining Car. The train arrived, stopped, but didn't open any doors that I could see. The station attendant said, "Just wait there." After about 5 minutes, the train started to roll and pulled out of the station without letting me on. The conductor never yelled "All Aboard," and never announced that only some doors on the train would open. In fact, he did nothing to help me get on the train. An attendant at the station with an arch attitude offered no apologies but booked me another trip on a train leaving DC's Union Station three hours later. Aside from losing my evening to train travel, this meant that my husband couldn't pick me up at the station because he finds it difficult to drive at night. When I complained to Customer Service, I was told my complaint would be logged against the conductor and I was told I would be given a Certificate for $15.00 "as a gesture of good will." A better gesture of good will would be for Amtrak to provide good service. I make the trip between New York and Washington, D.C. frequently. I can and sometimes do fly the same route. With government funding always in jeopardy, you'd think Amtrak would be working harder to retain the clientele it has.

This is a situation for Chris to weigh in on in, but he's unfortunately not with us today. We're e-mailing it to him, along with your contact info, and I expect he'll be in touch. Sorry about your experience, and I agree that you'd think Amtrak would work harder to keep the customers it has.

I travel to Denver for work somewhat frequently but this May I get to take my husband with me for the first time. I LOVE the city and can't wait to introduce him to great Mexican food and even better breweries. I was just wondering if you all had any specific recommendations for things to do - we're staying in the Lower Downtown district and will have a rental car. We're not super sporty but do enjoy (easy) hiking and exploring as well as the aforementioned food and drink!

Check out our Denver recommendations from our recent story on whether Denver is the Capitol in "The Hunger Games."

Other suggestions?

We are looking to fly out to Vegas in the beginning of June. First off, it seems like the number of direct flights out of DC has decreased dramatically since the last time we flew (4 years ago). Is that a trend and why is that? Also - anything "new and interesting" out there? We have done the Dam, Fremont, lots of typical things while out there last time. We'll be there 3 days.

Yes, your observation is accurate -- there are fewer nonstop flights. Airlines are merging (Airtran with Southwest, Delta with Northwest, United with Continental, etc.), which results in fewer flight options. And it's cheaper for airlines to operate out of just a few hubs and to funnel flights through those cities. I haven't visited Las Vegas in a few years, but I hear that the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay is neat. Chatters? 

HI, Travel Gurus--I liked reading some of the items in Sunday's Europe edition, but I thought the Travel Section needed more content besides the wonderful articles about Mostar and Vis. For example, how about visiting Holland, Scandinavia, Spain, Austria, etc.? Also, did Ms. Sachs ever receive my email to her about my prize for the laundry list of dark history places visited on cruise shore excursions? I sent her an email two weeks ago, and I haven't received a response from anybody. I did provide an email address for the reply in the message. Thanks.

We did have a story on eastern Germany ready to go, but there wasn't room to accommodate it in the end (it'll run this Sunday). Our space in the Travel section is always limited, alas. But beyond that, we very deliberately chose stories that would fit our "Southern exposures" theme, i.e., travel in southern Europe. Since we run European stories year-round, we like to give the special Europe section a distinct focus. And funnily, Andrea was just saying this morning that she'd never heard from her prize-winner from a couple of weeks ago! Could you resend your info, please, and she'll shoot off a prize at once, I promise!

We are headed to South Beach for spring break next week with 7 and 9 year old boys. What are some of the best outdoor activities you can recommend? (not museums or indoor exhibits)

My parents were just down there and raved about the zoo. Who else has an idea?

I'm taking a cruise out of Galveston, TX ....thankfully on Princess. I'm flying into Houston the night before so I have a little time to wander around Galveston. It's my first time in the area, is there anything that is a MUST SEE? Thanks!

I love Galveston, and it's great that the cruise terminal is within walking distance of the town. I wrote this story about the city for Cruise Critic a couple of years ago -- hope that's helpful. 

My first trip to Washington (that I remember. I apparently was brought here when I was 2. This was when I was 12), we walked to the Jefferson Memorial and got caught inside the memorial while an amazing lightning storm raged outside. It was beautiful. Other cities - Prague is a beautiful city and full of lovely walks, but I really did come to hate cobblestones. And Paris is also amazing to walk. Just pick a direction and go and you will find amazing things.

Right!

Travel Gurus - I plan to stay in London using my Marriott points but am finding it difficult to pick "the one" amongst all of the options. Can you tell me whether one of the Marriott properties in London is worth the splurge? I will be there for four days in May. Thanks!

Chatters?

Our daughter is graduating from BU Law in May, the day before our 35th wedding anniversary. We plan on taking the following week and work our way down the coast. What should we see. We like the beach, but May might be cold. Any suggestions?

Well of course you must stop in Plymouth, for obvious reasons. Do you want to head out to Cape Cod? Even in May, it will be beautiful, if too cool for the beach. But there are lots of pretty little towns to visit. If that's too much of a detour for you, I'd probably head for Fall River (see the Lizzie Borden house and museum) and New Bedford, an old whaling town with a number of historic districts, and then head over to Newport, R.I., to check out the fantastic grand beach "cottages" of the once-upon-a-time wealthy, then down the Connecticut coast to Old Saybrook and New London. Not sure you'll have time for all those places, but they're all of interest. Chatters, what do you suggest?

I know you've answered this before, can you direct me to your review of airbnb. I am going on a cruise in September, and want to give them a try for my stay in Amsterdam and Barcelona (pre and post cruise) and wanted to review that article. Thanks

I think you're talking about Andrea's story from a few years ago. Here it is.

I am traveling to Istanbul this July for a wedding. Turkish Air seems to run great fare sales, but current offers are for travel this spring. Do you think I should wait to see if Turkish Air runs a summer promotion, or book now at about 1K? Also, any recs for a week in Istanbul?

I just looked at flights in mid-July on Turkish Airlines and saw that it will open seat selection as of April 8. One of my tricks is to track the number of seats available. If the flights are basically wide open, there is greater likelihood of a sale, but if lots of seats are booked, buy soon. Will leave recommendations on Istanbul to my colleagues and other chatters. 

Husband and I are going to Austin for the first time in May for a long weekend. We've been getting conflicting advice on renting a car or not. Seems like a 50/50 split. Can you be the tiebreaker? Priorities are bats, beer, food, and music and we're staying right on Congress St. We never rent a car for vacation, but have not heard great things about transit there. (Although they do seem to have light rail,)

We stayed in Austin a couple of years ago without a car for at least part of the time and did just fine. We stayed at the Driskill Hotel right downtown, walked to the State Capitol just around the corner, walked down Congress to SoCo, no problem, though it was a hike. But as I said in the intro today, I'm a big walker. I suppose that if we'd wanted to go farther afield, we might have needed a car. Let's ask the chatters what they think.

The questioner doesn't provide much detail with regard to airlines or whether the connection is to an international or domestic flight, but a quick check of Minimum Connect Time at Stockholm shows that an hour or less seems to be the required amount of time. As long as the arriving flight is on time or close to it there should be no problem. I think it's a fairly small airport and it's probably much better designed for efficiency than a lot of other places.

Appreciate the insight.

I have some time off coming up in early May and I'd really like to get out of town for a week or so and explore a new place. The only catch is that I'm on a pretty tight budget. I don't want to spend more than about $500, and definitely no more than $800. I'd like a little bit of everything - cool old history/sights to explore, outdoor activities (hiking,kayaking), good food and hopefully pretty scenery. Because of budget constraints I assume I'll need to stay in the States, but I'm kind of at a loss as to where to go. I'm considering New Orleans or Puerto Rico, but wondering if I'm missing any options. Thanks so much for your help!

Airfares alone might kill your budget. Fares to Puerto Rico with rather long connections start at $310 round trip for mid-week travel; fare is $360 nonstop. New Orleans is even pricier, with connecting flights starting at $400, and nonstops at about $570. Perhaps you'd be better off driving and heading to Nashville or Charleston. 

We are heading to Williamsburg at the end of this month and looking for good activities for a toddler (almost 3 years old). Any suggestions? We are staying in Williamsburg but open to things a short drive away (25-30 mins).

First, find yourself a hotel with an indoor  pool, such as the Williamsburg Hotel & Conference Center. When all else fails to entertain, hit the pool.

 A lot of the history will be over your little one's head, but he/she will still enjoy the costumed reenactors  at Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Settlement. Also check for special events, such as Colonial cooking  and planting demos. Busch Gardens opened last weekend with limited hours. Wander through the animal exhibits and such age-appropriate attractions as Sesame Street Forest of Fun and Elephant Run, a bobsled ride. And for a side trip, consider the Virginia Living Museum, which is kid-centric.

We are driving from Asheville to Durham, NC. If we want to take a break along the way, where is an interesting place to stop? And where is the best place between those 2 cities to ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a bit?

You could drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville to around Morganton. Not sure about the best place to stop. Greensboro, maybe? Chatters, help us out.

Did the Amtrak writer provide it (and you redacted it)? Or do you automatically have it automatically from our login info?

We redacted it.

For the Normandy traveler, check out the Bayeux Tapestry housed in a museum in the well preserved town of Bayeux. The tapestry is almost 1,000 years old and it depicts the Norman invasion of England from the Norman perspective. Fascinating. I rank it as one of the Top 5 coolest things I've ever seen.

From a few weeks ago - I had a wonderful 3 hour tour of Vatican with Context Tours. The docent was extremely knowledgeable about history, religion, politics, EVERYTHING! The groups are limited size (6-10). He was amazing and no way could I have experienced it that way on my own. Context Tours in general are kind of pricey (several years ago but I think around $100 per person) but they have masters degrees in history, art, religion, etc. and are wonderful teachers.

Thanks so much for this information.

My parents are taking my 16 year old daughter to England this summer. We are in the process of getting her passport. Will they need the passport number before they can book the tickets? Also, do we need to send a letter with them authorizing them to take her out of the country? Are there any wierd loopholes we need to be aware of?

A letter is a good idea. Here's the advice from Customs and Border Protection. Not sure about the passport number -- I was able to book our tickets to London without ours, but I don't know if that varies by airline. I'm going to add that info once we pick up our passports a few days before we leave.

Does anyone have recommendations for planning a trip to Australia and/or getting package information? I last went in July 2001 as part of a student ambassador program and swore I'd go back when I was 30. I know that Sydney and Cairns are must-see-again for me.

Lots of companies offer package deals to Australia, including the airlines (Qantas & Virgin Australia). You could start by contacting a travel agent who is an Aussie specialist (they have to go through training with Australia Tourism to qualify). If you want to go it alone, Australia Tourism's Web site is well done and a good place to begin. 

I really liked the article about Mostar, which I visited in 1997. Thank you. It's rare to read something so nicely written rather than utilitarian. Two more-than-quibbles, tho: What about the landmines? Are they no longer a danger in the area? I wouldn't want people thinking they only have snakes to fear off-road, unless that's true. And, I would have liked to read something about how much Mostar's current demographic resembles what it was before the war and ethnic hatred forced thousands to abandon their homes -- homes that then were taken over by people on the other side of the ethnic divide.

Sorry our article didn't answer your questions. Had we known about them beforehand, we might have posed them. :-)

Perhaps the chatters know something about what you ask.

We've stayed at the Chancery Court Holborn. Good location for museums, Covent Garden, the West end and steps from the Holborn tube station (Piccadilly and Central lines).

There is one in the old County Hall, south bank, next to Westminster Bridge and the London Eye. I'd love to stay there, with a river view room....but it's been out of my budget. Only problem: Underground is across the bridge.

My sister and I are headed for Miami Beach/South Beach next month. Do you have any restaurants you could recommend?

Chatters?

I stayed at the Grosvenor House in London last summer on points. Super nice but in between tube stations. The Marriott County Hall is on the Thames and close to a lot. Marriott at Marble Arch is next to a tube station as is the Renaissance St. Pancras.

I'd stop in Old Salem restored Moravian Community in Winston-Salem

Yes, that sounds very nice, though I've never been.

I was reading an internet forum about credit cards with smartcard chips in them and how they are not likely to show up in the US as chip and PIN type cards which are in use in most of the rest of the world. The thread was sidetracked a bit by a discussion of a relatively new scam in foreign countries where the merchant (often hotels) will offer to charge you in US dollars rather than the local currency "for your convenience". They do this at a much worse rate of exchange than you would receive by making the charge in the local currency and having the credit card issuer do the exchange. I expect that most people accept the "convenience" of being scammed by this. I've read that some hotels push very hard and basically require you to accept the charge in USD. Apparently you need to carefully read the card you sign when you check in because one of the stiplulations you may be agreeing to by your signature is acceptance of this provision with no way to change you mind at check out. Of course you also need to use a card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees as well. The card issuers seem to have caught on that this is important to people and they are using no fee cards as a way to woo travelers to their product.

Thanks for the warnings.

We are spending 2 weekend nights in Orvieto. We were planning on taking a day trip to Civita di Bagnoregio or another town before realizing the buses don't run on Sundays. Is there enough in Orvieto to keep us occupied for a full day, or is there another nearby town we can visit? We won't have a car so we will have to rely on public transportation.

And how about this one, chatters? I don't know Orvieto.

In addition to the "must" sites, I enjoyed the Cluny Museum (medieval). Also, taking walks is a great way to explore Paris, either with a guide (pariswalks.com) or with a book such as ParisWalks (which may be out of print but findable). I don't know if it's on the "must" lists, but I also loved the catacombs!

Lived there for 6 years and visit regularly. I would vote no car for a trip in May (August -- yes). You will probably have to pay a lot to park, and there's plenty to see within a short radius (especially if you have never been there before). You can supplement with buses and taxis. Oh, and go to the Barton Springs pool!

Thanks!

Two full time granny-nannies are planning a much needed getaway and have decided on Key West as our destination. We will be travelling early to mid-summer and plan on staying 5 days. Do you have any suggestions on reasonably priced, clean B&B's or small Inn's? Are rates generally lower in the summer months?

Tossing another one to you, chatters!

My wife and I were in England many years ago, and took a train to the Lake District, near Lake Windemere, where we stayed in a B and B. The next morning was a glorious day, and we walked all over the green hills, through stiles, by sheep and wondrous stone walls up hillsides. It was so glorious that I got a sunburn in the famously "misty" (read drizzly and chilly) area. When we got back in late afternoon, the wonderful host told us to go sit with our feet in a nearby stream, and he brought out two chilled beers to us there. One of my most favorite travel days ever!

Lovely!

Hi there. Can you explain how Amtrak sets its fares? I know they still offer the $49 each-way (Northeast Regional) between Washington and NYC, but while this used to apply to most trains if you booked 2 weeks in advance, it now appears that this fare is limited only to extremely early or extremely late trains. Additionally, for whatever reason, a lot of the NE Regional options are only $8 less than the nearest Acela option, which makes little sense, given the better service quality. (Note: I'm very pro-Amtrak and pro-rail, but almost $600 R/T for my wife and me to go to New York over the weekend seems out of bounds.)

It sets its fares based on demand. If the seats are filling at the higher fares, no cheap seats are offered. I don't know when you plan to travel, but trains become more crowded around Cherry Blossom time. You could always take the bus, which is much cheaper. 

I'll be traveling to Mongolia with my family in June. We are flying from JFK to Moscow and to Ulaan Bataar. Questions: do we need a visa for Russia? what about Mongolia? Also any racomandations? Thanks

If you are simply passing through Russia en route to UB, you don't need a visa. If you plan to leave the airport, then, yes, you need a visa. (For my flight from UB to the States, I had a long layover in Beijing and applied for a visa so that I could run around the city for a few hours.)  Mongolia does not require Americans to carry a visa.

I am not sure where you are going to be in the country, but in the capital I recommend Gandan Monastery,  shopping at the Black Market (hang tight to your valuables), Sukhbaatar Square, the Mongolian Natural History Museum, the National Museum of Mongolian History (fascinating!), the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts and the Victims of Political Persecution Memorial Museum (heart-wrenching). For an overview of the country, see my 2011 piece here.

And that does it, folks! Thanks for chatting, sending in tips, offering stories and more. Looks like the place to walk is definitely the UK, and there were some great ones described, but I have to give the prize to the person who lunched in Kate Winslet's back yard. So send your name and address to me at smardzz@washpost.com, and you'll soon see your prize! See you next week, everybody!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
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.
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.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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