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March 5, 2012

12
P.M.

Talk about Travel: Memorable train trips

Total Responses: 110

About the hosts

About the host

Jane Touzalin

Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.

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.

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.

Zofia Smardz

Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.

Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.

About the topic

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

Andrea Sachs :

Welcome, compatriots, to another hour of Travel chat. Hope everyone had a great weekend and savored the Sunday Travel section over hot coffee and scones (or tea and granola--whatever your flavor).

We have with us today Melanie Kaplan, the writer of the wonderful  cross-country train piece --so hit her up for tips.

Today's topic/question also relates to our section's main focus: train travel. Tell us about your dreamiest, or most nightmarish, trip on the rails and win a prize.

Q.

American Airlines

Do you have any information on American Airlines' bankruptcy and what changes may be coming? I'm holding April tickets and concerned about having a back up plan. Thanks.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Here's the American Airlines page on its restructuring. I spent some quality time talking with an American representative about what is happening, and based on it, and being an observer of several airline industry bankruptcies, I don't think you have anything to worry about -- at least not yet.

– March 05, 2012 12:00 PM
Q.

Beaches

Looking for a rental for this summer in Delaware or Outer Banks. I know you all have written a ton on this topic over the years but I can't locate any of it on the website. Can you please point me in the right direction? Thanks so much!
A.
Carol Sottili :

You can either go through the many rental agencies or look at the rent-by-owner sites. Rental agencies in Delaware include Jack Lingo, Coldwell Banker (Rehoboth, Dewey) and Coldwell Banker (Bethany, Fenwick). For the Outer Banks, look at Sun Realty and Village Realty. Rent-by owner sites include VRBO and Homeaway

– March 05, 2012 12:01 PM
Q.

For last week's chatter wondering about a Paris day trip from London

I did it a couple of years ago. Took an early, say 6:00 Eurostar and then left Paris about 8:00 that night. I had been to Paris multiple times, so wasn't in a rush to see everything. And I was traveling with a friend who just wanted to spend her birthday in Paris. We did the Musee d'Orsay, the Rodin museum, shopping, Ste Chapelle, the Eiffel Tower, walked the Champs Elysee, stopped in at Place des Vosges, did a quick and dirty at the Louvre (essentially just the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc). And still had timet o meet a friend for coffee and grab dinner before heading back to Gare du Nord. The day didn't feel rushed (we spent a lot of time shopping that obviously could have been spent doing other things, and coffee with my friend was a lingering and relaxed conversation), and both agreed we could have been happy even if we had taken a later train out of London in the morning. Essentially, I think it's a totally worthwhile trip to do, and as long as your mindset isn't "I need to see everything in Paris or else this will be a failure" and is more "I've got a list of things to see but I'm also just as happy soaking in the fact that I'm in Paris" it will be a fun day!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Last week's London traveler, here's more to consider. Report back to us, and let us know what you decided to do!

– March 05, 2012 12:01 PM
Q.

Personal travel stories

This is regarding the debate in last week's chat about calling for personal travel stories. I would like to cast a vote in support of them. I like a good travel tip as well as the next person, but the stories lift this chat into a higher place. Otherwise, it's just a laundry list of hotel recommendations. What are we if not our stories? I find them to be interesting, funny, sad, and inspiring. In short, they reflect the human experience and and remind us of why we travel.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Ah, you reflect my thoughts precisely. Thanks for the eloquent vote of confidence.

– March 05, 2012 12:01 PM
Q.

Sleeper Trains in the US!

Regarding Kaplan's article could you please provide more information on what was approximately the cost of the trip that she took? Just the train portion. Also can you talk more about the restroom situation in the train? Did some cabins have a restroom? Are there any popular-not-so expensive- train routes to Canada? I've been in sleeper trains in Asia but I'm not sure if it is the same concept here in the US, and I'm really looking forward to make a train journey.

A.
Becky Krystal :

Be sure you check out the sidebar that accompanied Melanie's story. She adds:

My trip was about $700, with a roomette DC  to Chicago and a roomette DC to Elko (making a stop is an added fee) and then coach Elko to San Francisco (and during that time I had to pay for meals b/c they weren't included with coach). I only reserved a few weeks ahead of time, but it was low season, so prices/timing would change as it gets closer to summer. There are indeed rooms with bathrooms (prices listed) which provide much more space and comfort.

On the East Coast, you can take Amtrak to Canada via the Maple Leaf (to Toronto) or Adirondack (to Montreal) -- connecting in New York, of course. In April, for example, I'm seeing fares starting at $81 each way.

– March 05, 2012 12:02 PM
Q.

Solo Beach Trip

I need to get in some beach time this summer but don't have a travel companion. I went to the Caribbean last year and loved it, and maybe I can get a good deal by going in the summer months, but it was an all-inclusive resort trip with friends and I would like to try something different. My ideal trip would be something like a super-casual B&B on the beach with an opportunity to explore the local culture. All I need is a bed and bathroom, with maybe the owner cooking up meals for a small number of guests. Nothing dressy or fancy. Domestic would be fine too, and I thought Key West might even fill the bill.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I am a big fan of Puerto Rico, especially the west coast. The lodging there is very chill, especially the paradores (small hotels often run by families).  Here is a list of paradore properties. Key West is also great, or consider Florida's Gulf Islands, such as Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, or perhaps a guest house on the Gulf Shores. The Original Romar House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Orange Beach, Ala.,  looks pretty darn cute. 

You might also consider San Diego, a great destination for a single beachgoer.

– March 05, 2012 12:06 PM
Q.

Weekend without kids

Would appreciate your help. We have a weekend without kids the beginning of May. Looking for a destination within 4-5 hours where we can find good food, maybe some spa services, places to ride our bikes, maybe a little live entertainment at night. No golf or other resort amenities. Done Greenbrier and Inn at Perry Cabin. Used to live in Charlottesville so no desire. Are we going to have to travel further afield? Thank you.
A.
Becky Krystal :

How about Virginia's Eastern Shore? Weather should be pretty nice there that time of year. You can bike at the various parks and refuges. Lots of little towns to choose from. Don't know what degree of nightlife you're looking for, but if you stay toward the southern tip of the peninsula, it's a relatively quick jump down to Virginia Beach if you want a night out on the town.

– March 05, 2012 12:06 PM
Q.

Personal stories

Totally agree with all the comments about the rather uninteresting personal stories that take up way too much space every week. I always skip them unless they are short AND the first sentence somehow catches my attention. It has only happened about a couple of times or so in the past, the least-colorful leaf story for example last fall where the person very dryly and briefly says "I live in Massachusetts so I get enough of the leaves while sitting in traffic caused by all the people who flock to New England to see the leaves". The suggestion to replace those personal stories with useful advice is excellent.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks for your thoughts! We will take all under advisement. :-)

– March 05, 2012 12:07 PM
Q.

Ecuador/Galapagos

We are interested in visiting Ecuador this summer, with a side trip to the Galapagos Islands, but have not clue where to start to plan this type of trip. Are there reputable travel packages that you could recommend?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

You definitely need some guidance for this kind of trip, because of the variety of islands and cruises. I would start with the Galapagos Conservancy, which offers info on when to go, what to see and do, etc. Also check with the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association. I would choose a smaller, more intimate boat that stresses ecology over cruise ship-style entertainment. 

– March 05, 2012 12:13 PM
Q.

Toy Store in Harrogate or Leeds, U.K.

My brother-in-law and family are being transferred to Harrogate, England in June - just as my two little nephews celebrate their birthdays. I'm in search of a toy store in the Harrogate/Leeds area of England that offers gift certificates for purchase online. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Anyone?

– March 05, 2012 12:13 PM
Q.

Question on Borneo/Bako National Park last week

Last week there was a question about Bako National Park in Sarawak, Borneo. I was there in 2008 and had a great time. Trails are somewhat rugged. Be prepared to clamber up some steep steps or rocks. Don't wear flip-flops, but athletic shoes or similar trail walkers will do fine. You're in the tropics there, so be prepared to sweat. I don't remember what women were wearing there, but I think most of the people hiking were wearing shorts or jeans and t-shirts. I'd bring an extra set to change into after your hike. Surprisingly, most of the wildlife I saw was near the main building there. There's a walkway built out over the mangrove flats where you can see the proboscis monkeys, and there used to be a bearded pig that would wander by the cafeteria at lunchtime. You'll also probably see smaller monkeys, monitor lizards, many birds, and possibly a snake or two. One thing I didn't encounter were any leeches. I've heard the area on the Santubong Peninsula is leech-free. I know I was wearing insect repellent, so that might have something to do with it.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Thanks for following up!

– March 05, 2012 12:14 PM
Q.

Amtrak Zephyr

What is the most beautiful time of year to take this train? Also, how does the club car seating work -- Is it hard to get a seat as people camp out for the entire day?
A.
:

MELANIE KAPLAN: It depends on what you consider beautiful! If you want to see white mountains, it makes sense to go in the winter. This is also when prices tend to be lower. But the down side is that you have several fewer hours of daylight in the winter than you would in the summer when everything is green. As for the observation car, it can get crowded during the most scenic times, but people move around enough ( to meals, to their own seats) that it didn't seem like they were camping out there all day.

– March 05, 2012 12:14 PM
Q.

Amtrak prices

Hello! I'm taking a weekend trip to Philadelphia in about two months. A few weeks ago, the prices for each leg of the trip were relatively low, and I should've purchased my tickets then. But alas, I did not, and now the prices for the return trip have gone up significantly. Is there any chance that those prices will come down a little between now and my trip or should I go ahead and buy my tickets before the prices go up even more? Thanks!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

It is possible, since prices fluctuate so much. So check the site frequently. In addition, if you are a AAA member, you can get a reduced price (with restrictions). Also, have you considered the bus? MegaBus goes from Union Station to  30th St., with a one-way fare for $5 or $7 or $11 --depending on when you travel.

– March 05, 2012 12:18 PM
Q.

Trains: The Rocky Mountaineer

Can you tell me anything about the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Banff/Lake Louise? We are thinking about this and wonder if their web site photos and coverage are believable and reliably? Thanks.
A.
Melanie Kaplan :

I don't personally know about this route, but I've heard nothing but good things about Canadian rail trips, and Banff has been on my wish list for a long time. I just took a look at the website and I'd believe the pictures and book a trip if I were you!

– March 05, 2012 12:18 PM
Q.

London-to-Paris day trip

I totally agree with the previous chatter. A couple of years ago, I did the reverse -- took a day trip to London from Paris, leaving on the earliest train and returning on one of the latest. I had been to London before, so I had a short list of things that I planned to cover, and it was well worth it. (The Eurostar is a wonderful ride, so you can use the time to nap, relax with a book, etc.) I agree that if you pick a few highlights, it's not difficult and is well worth doing. It's like a mini-vacation from your vacation, because the two cities have very different feels.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks for the input!

– March 05, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

Boston Hotel Prices

I'm planning on traveling to Boston with my wife and son for a few days in early June. I am shocked by the price of hotels in the historic/downtown area, even on the weekend. Few name brands can be found for less than $200 a night, with many in the $300-400 range (and this is without another $25-50 in parking). Can you speculate on what is driving the prices and offer advice on finding a reasonable rate in town?
A.
Carol Sottili :

City vacations have become very popular. Hotel occupancy rates for Boston in 2011 were about 74 percent, which is high (national average was 60 percent). High occupancy rates mean higher room rates -- the average rate in 2011 in Boston was $171. TripAdvisor has a list of value hotels, but even these are pricey.  Any chatters have a cheaper place they can recommend? 

– March 05, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

Copa baggage follow-up

I just wanted to let you know that the contact info you provided (the CEO's e-mail address) did the trick. I e-mailed Mr. Heilbron on Monday evening (Feb 27) and got an immediate reply from him. The check was cut on Feb 28, and I received it on Mar 4. Thank you!
A.
Christopher Elliott :

I love a happy ending! Thanks for letting us know. 

– March 05, 2012 12:21 PM
Q.

Showers in Airports

Before a recent trip with five-hour layover in Zurich, I complained to a friend, "Truck stops have showers. Why don't airports have showers?" and she said, "Frankfurt has showers." It turns out Zurich airport does too.They also have rooms with cots for napping. I paid $18 for a shower, a lot of money, but my alternative was 48 hours without one. Really, all airports should have showers, and not just for Business Class passengers.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Interesting. We're planning a story on airport amenities, so this is fodder for that. Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 12:22 PM
Q.

Travel and Adventure Show?

Just wondering what this is all about as I've never been before. What will I find here that I can't find out for myself through internet research and reading some guidebooks? Thanks!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

These shows are good if you are looking for inspiration, travel planning help -- and free pens. The event's Web site lists the exhibitors and the speakers, including such notables as Pauline Frommer and Samantha Brown. I would recommend checking it out, unless you are off having your own travel adventure.

– March 05, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

Travel "home exchanges"

My husband and I and our two boys are planning on vacationing in Europe this summer. We are interested in doing a home exchange with another family and are curious as to how reputable these programs are. There are several websites dedicated to home exchanges, some with a fee and some without. Is there any site that you have experience with that you might be able to recommend? Thank you.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Here's our story from the other year on home exchanges. The accompanying sidebar listed a few web sites to consider. Do the chatters have any other recommendations?

– March 05, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

Family & Dog Summer Beach Trip

We (Bethesda middle-aged married couple) would like to go to the beach in August w/in an 8-hour drive of DC w/ our son who will then be 12 and our dog for a week or less. We require a beach w/ a lively town and other things to do (e.g. biking/hiking/history.) Do you have any recommendations of beaches one can take a preteen and a pooch? None of the Delmarva beaches allow dogs in season. Hotel/resort/rental recommendations would be helpful as well. Thank you.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Head south. A good number of the North Carolina beaches will allow dogs on the sand. Zofia had some Outer Banks recommendations with her story on Corolla from the fall, but neither of those properties appear to be pet-friendly. Check Bringfido.com for suggestions. Anyone else have a place to recommend?

– March 05, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

I love the train!

Just wanted to say that I moved to Texas from DC a few years ago and I miss the train. They are talking about building one to connect Austin, Dallas and/or Houston, but I doubt it will ever happen.
A.
Melanie Kaplan :

It looks like the Sunset Limited goes through Houston and San Antonio,  and then the Texas Eagle goes north from San Antonio, passing through Austin and Dallas.

– March 05, 2012 12:25 PM
Q.

travel

A friend and I have an opportunity to fly standby to INDIA (MUMBAI). We would then like to sight-see in Northern part of India.Our preference to travel would be early November or early January. Because we will be standby passengers, we do not know the exact date of arrival. Should we book a tour before we leave with allowance of a few days or could we book the tour after we get there? What is your advise about hotel reservations in Mumbai under these circumstances? Thank you.

A.
Andrea Sachs :

I woukd not book them yet, unless they have generous cancellation policies. But do compile a list of hotels, addresses and phone number, plus tours you'll want to book as soon as you get there. You don't want to waste time scrambling when you land.

– March 05, 2012 12:28 PM
Q.

How long is a weekly rental

I was surprised the other day when I was looking to book a cabin in Sedona at Homeaway.com and found out the weekly rental rate was for 6 nights (Sat. to Fri). I always thought a weekly rental is Saturday to Saturday. The fact you cannot check in until after 3:00pm and check out before noon leaves you close to 7 days if a book Saturday to Saturday. Is it wrong that they advertise a "weekly" rate and it's only 6 nights?
A.
Carol Sottili :

Did you call the owner to verify? I find these calendars confusing. Many times, they mean that you stay Saturday through Friday nights, which is a week, rather than you check in Saturday and check out Friday. 

– March 05, 2012 12:28 PM
Q.

Amtrak Auto Train

We are considering taking the Amtrak Auto Train down to Florida this summer. When is the best time to purchase the tickets? Amtrak usually runs a 'Kids Ride Free' promotion each summer. When will that be available?
A.
Melanie Kaplan :

Generally, the earlier the better with purchasing Amtrak tickets. I just did a quick search for the Kids Ride Free promotion, and it looks like it runs at different times and for different routes--i.e. the Downeaster has a Kids Ride Free on Sundays promotion, but I didn't see anything right away for the Auto Train. I'd suggest calling and asking an Amtrak representative about the specific times you're looking at for this route.

– March 05, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

Becky Krystal :

For last week's chatter looking to walk across England, here's a note we got via e-mail from a reader in Reston:

Regarding the March 4 Travel section recommendation requested for a walking trip company to arrange a self-guided hike in Cornwall , I have some suggestions based on personal experience.

First a bit of background: I hiked the Offa’s Dyke Path in Wales and The Kerry Way in Ireland, both very happily under arrangements made by the now out-of-business company English Wanderer that you recommended in 1990. Another company, see at www.sherpavan.com, arranged my 3-weeks hike in 1999 on the Coast-to-Coast Trail in England, and (if I remember correctly) the company at www.contours.co.uk arranged my 2-week hike in 2005 along the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail, in the north of  England. The nonprofit British organization somewhat analogous to the Sierra Club, called simply Ramblers, is associated with a wonderful hiking trip organization, www.ramblersholidays.co.uk, with which my husband and I have gone on marvelous, and very inexpensive (the guides are volunteers), long-distance hikes in France and Italy.

I enthusiastically recommend all of the above, and I believe that the second, Contours, arranges self-guided tours in Cornwall .

Good luck to your correspondent. Long-distance rambling, for me, is the best kind of holiday ever. Being outdoors in all kinds of weather, with the sky as one’s roof, enveloped in the sights, sounds, and smells of the earth – day after day after day – provides serenity and proportion to one’s life.

Q.

Airline Pet Fees

Can someone explain to me the justification the airlines could use to in charging me from $138 [AirTran] to $300 [Delta] to put my 5lb Chihuahua in my carryon bag? I used to remind the airlines that I was travelling with a pet and needed to pay the fee, but one time decided just not to say anything. Since that time, I just travel with her in my bag, unannounced. I have come to consider it no one's business what I have in my bag. Once TSA has determined that I am terror-free, why do the airlines care what is in my bag? She doesn't bark, in fact, no one ever even knows she is there. She is inside her totally mesh doggy carrier, inside a cotton open top tote bag which I put under the seat in front of me. As is common in the breed, she loves to "burrow" [she sleeps all night under the covers of our bed, mostly down by my knees,] so she is in no danger of suffocation and is not stressed by practice; in fact, she loves it. She is never in there more than 3-1/2 hours. Am I "stealing" from the airline with this practice? Should I pay for this "service" that is no service at all? They even disclaim all responsibility to the pet after charging this fee!

A.
Christopher Elliott :

I agree with you, the charges seem a little high, particularly in light of the fact that a carry-on bag (or a baby, for that matter) would not cost anything. I'm really intrigued by this topic. Chatters, have any of you smuggled an animal on board to avoid this fee? If you have, please send me a note with your story; I may write a Navigator column about this.

– March 05, 2012 12:30 PM
A.
Jane Touzalin :

I'm with him; the fee seems high. However, there's some extra work involved on the part of the airline when you bring the pet onboard. They have to inspect the veterinary certificate and make sure all is in order. They have to check out the dog to make sure it's alive (really -- some people have tried to fly with dead animals). And remember that though your dog might be a perfect angel, not all are; and there might be passengers aboard who are allergic to animal hair, necessitating some extra work on the part of the crew.  So I can see a fee of some sort, but $138 sounds excessive.

– March 05, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

Two days in Dublin

What are the key activities, sights, etc. in Dublin? My husband and I will be there next week, and since we'll only have about two days of leisure time, I want to make sure we hit the must-sees. Also, any can't-miss pubs or restaurants? Thanks!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

I haven't actually been to Dublin, though it's on my bucket list. I would think the main things you'd want to see are Dublin Castle, the churches -- including St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral --, the Mansion House (mayor's residence), Kilmainhaim Gaol and Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. In fact, check out this story we did on Dublin libraries, which all sound really interesting (there's a good pub recommendation in the Details box, too). You could also visit the James Joyce Centre and take a Joyce walking tour of Dublin. You could spend hours in all the Dublin parks as well (it has more green spaces per square mile than any European capital). Phoenix Park is home to the Dublin Zoo and Ashtown Castle, an interesting fortified medieval house. And let us not forget whiling away some hours in the pubs!

Chatters, I'm sure you have much more to add, so please add away!

– March 05, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

Paris, summer 2012

My husband and I would like to visit Paris this summer. Is it too late to get good airfare/accommodation deals? Will the Olympics in London in July wreak havoc on our plans? Would it be better to wait until the Fall? Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

Airfares and hotel rates are not typically tied to advance purchases. In other words, buying months in advance does not guarantee a cheaper deal. I don't think the Olympics will have much of an effect on Paris, but if you're worried about that, go earlier in July or later in August. To save money, go in autumn -- fares typically fall by $200 or $300 and crowds have thinned. It'll be cooler and rainer, but September is still fairly nice. Keep checking sites such as Kayak and Bing Travel for fares. And check out the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau for hotel choices.  

– March 05, 2012 12:30 PM
Q.

Turks & Caicos

Do you have any suggestions for places to eat or things to do in Turks & Caicos? Specifically the Grace Bay area.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Chatters, can you help?

– March 05, 2012 12:31 PM
Q.

Amtrak Article

Thanks for the great Amtrak article this weekend. I love traveling by train, so this summer, I am coming back from Seattle to Washington, DC via Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Chicago - 6 days of train travel. What could be better?
A.
Zofia Smardz :

So glad you liked the story! It does sound like a great way to go.

– March 05, 2012 12:32 PM
Q.

Layout of Responses to Topic (Paragraphs etc)

One suggestion for your weekly chat: Is it possible to amend the current set-up, where no paragraphs or spaces appear, despite the writer inserting them. It can be very off-putting to wade through responses or stories - however interesting and helpful - when there's one long 'paragraph' versus a number of smaller ones, nicely spaced. Thank you.
A.
Becky Krystal :

This may be a system thing beyond our control, but I will forward to our tech people.

– March 05, 2012 12:32 PM
Q.

Italian Train Experience

In the mid-1970s, my now ex-husband and I were taking an overnight train from Vienna, Austria to Venice, Italy. We had first-class Eurail passes, so when we boarded the train and I tried to grab a couple of seats in a second-class car, he refused to sit there. Off we went to the first-class car, which had no vacant seats. So we went back to second-class, and by then, all of those seats were filled too. We ended up sitting on the stairs (where people board the train), right next to the bathroom. And when one of our fellow overflow passengers found out we were American, he played Mungo Jerry's song, "In the Summertime" for us over and over and over and over. Oddly, as nightmarish as that trip was, hearing that song now makes me smile.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

That sounds like such a bell-bottoms-ish trip of the '70s.

– March 05, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

boston hotels

Try Hotwire or Priceline (be sure to visit betterbidding.com to try and nail down what hotel it is you're getting). Skip the car-- Boston is lovely on foot and on the T.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Great minds think alike!

– March 05, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

Eastern Canada

Poll: With ten days in early September, would chatters (and the experts) choose Newfoundland or Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island? Everything online seems to agree that you can't do both.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Chatters, weigh in!

– March 05, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

Train to Glacier

Last summer we took the Empire Builder from Minneapolis to Glacier National Park. Glacier is one of the most convenient national parks to visit by train and by utilizing the public & private shuttle system at Glacier we were able to do our entire trip without a car. While we did get stuck behind a derailment for several hours on the way to the park, the overall trip was extremely enjoyable and it certainly made me wish that more national parks were reachable by rail.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

That's a great way to see the park --hands-free of the steering wheel.

– March 05, 2012 12:35 PM
Q.

Airport showers

I think the new New Delhi airport has showers, and rooms with cots that you can rent for a few hours to sleep during a layover.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Good to know, thanks!

– March 05, 2012 12:35 PM
Q.

fun train trip

Not really dreamy, but travelling from NYC to Cleveland. Travelling up the Hudson River Valley at sunset was gorgeous, especially going past West Point. I'd do it again!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Sounds like such a pretty route. Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 12:36 PM
Q.

Train Travel Adventures

I'm a self professed train buff and will travel by train wherever and whenever I can. Favorite experience: I was able to get a cab ride on the Acela Express during the first year of that train's operation and got to sit next to the engineer at the front from Baltimore to Wilmington. The power cars (they aren't engines on the Acela) don't tilt the way the passenger cars do on the curves so it makes for a rough albeit exciting ride, being able to see what is coming up instead of what is going by on the side of the train. Nightmare experience: I took the overnight train from Luxor to Cairo in November 2009. While the Cairo to Luxor trip was fairly uneventful, on the return trip, the train was late, no announcements were made in the station (at least not in a language I speak), the bathrooms were practically unusable, and the train made all sorts of intermediate stops and we were hours late with no explanations. Egyptian trains don't have food service so even though we had some food of our own, we were hungry and pretty exhausted by the time the train finally got back to Cairo. My friends who had never done an overnight train trip before this round trip vowed to never do it again. Other fun highlights: The train from the Italian mainland to Sicily is ferried across the Straits of Messina by boat, they load the passenger cars on the boat and you can get out and wander around the boat deck while making the water crossing. In a testament to German train scheduling, I missed a train connection in Brussels while traveling from Madrid to Koln because the Paris-Brussels leg was 14 minutes late and my layover was only 12. I was accomodated on the next train 90 minutes later with no issue, except they were doing a survey on board the train to determine where and why passengers were on that train, and I probably submitted a survey that did them no good for their research purposes, since some of my other answers contradicted each other as a result of the circumstances under which I found myself on that train.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

You definitely experienced the highs and lows of train travel.

– March 05, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Month-long sabbatical - ideas needed!

I have a wonderful problem - a 1-month sabbatical to spend with my family this summer, but we are overwhelmed by all of the options. The trip will include my kids (12 and 14 years old) and my husband. We are willing to take a few small trips instead of one long one. We enjoy outdoor activities, especially nature and wildlife, and are not interested in an urban adventure. No set budget but we'd like to spend less than $10K. Any suggestions? Thank you in advance!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I would choose Indonesia (so many islands to explore), New Zealand (so much land to explore) or Australia (such a big country to explore).

– March 05, 2012 12:38 PM
Q.

Packing for multiple climates?

After several years of saving, we're finally taking the trip of a lifetime. Now the question is how to outfit ourselves appropriately. We'll be hitting early summer in northern Europe, African winter (equator) and the tropics of SE Asia in a single trip this summer. Any clothing or packing tips for the single suitcase that each of us will take? Thank you!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Check out this article we ran about traveling round the world in 29 days. The author has some valuable thoughts about packing and clothing that should be helpful to you.

And let's of course ask the chatters for their input. People?

– March 05, 2012 12:38 PM
Q.

Dublin!

I love Dublin! There is a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket you can buy that hits all the major tourist spots. I would suggest a visit to the Guinness factory (the bar at the top has an awesome view of the city, and you can have a soda if you don't want a beer), a stroll through St. Stephen's Green, Trinity College for the Book of Kells. For a good pub, wander around Temple Bar (you should do that anyway!) and see what looks appealing. There's a ton of great music at the pubs, and they are all smoke free by law. Dublin is a very manageable city, size-wise, so buy one of those little popup maps and wander around looking at all the pretty Georgian buildings with the colorful doors, walk down Grafton street to have a tea at Bewely's, and hit the National Gallery, which is on Dawson Street (I think). Have fun! It's a great city.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks! Now I'm moving it up on my list!

– March 05, 2012 12:39 PM
Q.

College Trip To the old USSR

The fun part of the trip across the border back from the USSR to FInland was having my train car searched by the Soviet border guards and realizing only after they left and we were across the border - - that my Russian language professor had hidden a pre-revolutionary samovar in my car... This would have been considered a Soviet national treasure, so taking it out of the country would have been a criminal offence. She and her mother were followed the whole time due to having been to the USSR numerous times, and she knew they would be watched closely, so she hid the item under my coat. I'll never know how close I came to seeing a gulag up close and personal. Needless to say, but I will anyhow, our relationship suffered, and I dropped out of the program.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

This reads like a Nancy Drew-meets-spy novel. Harrowing!

– March 05, 2012 12:39 PM
Q.

Dublin

You cannot miss the Guinness Factory. It is a great museum and you get a pint at the end. Walking around Temple Bar and Grafton Street would also be on my list for Dublin.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Right-o.

– March 05, 2012 12:39 PM
Q.

Day Dreaming About Cross Country Trip Via Train...

I've been day dreaming about taking that same cross country trip by train since I read the article yesterday. Do you have any recommendations regarding the best time of year to do the trip?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Melanie says:

I guess it depends on  the person's priorities--in the winter you'll see snow ( not much when I went but this year was unusual weather-wise) and you'll probably get a train that's less full and lower rates, but the tradeoff is that you have several hours less of daylight during which to see everything. From what I understand, they are much more crowded when school is out in the summer, but then you get the lush green, all the spring/summer foliage, and the extra hours.

– March 05, 2012 12:39 PM
Q.

Train to Machu Picchu

Hi fellow travelers! I am planning my Preuvian honeymoon and am wondering if anyone has experience taking the train to Machu Picchu? I like the idea of the Hiram Bingham but it's so pricey - just wanting to know if anyone has taken it and has reviews? Or other train recommendations? Thanks a ton!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Chatters, need you for this one!

– March 05, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

Weekly Contests

I didn't get to weigh in last week but would like to say that I, personally, enjoy reading the anecdotes people send in about their travels for the weekly contests. I find them amusing and, in some cases, can learn from them and actually find them more helpful than the questions about whether the travel gurus feel someone should purchase their airline tickets now as opposed to waiting. No matter what you all decide to do with the chats, though, I will continue to be an active fan - have enjoyed partaking in the chats for years now! My sincerest gratitude.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks so much!

– March 05, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

Personal Stories

The beautiful part about this chat is that there is something for everyone. Not every bit of advice is going to be relevant to every reader, and not every story is going to be interesting to everyone. Scan the topics, read what interests you, and assume that every post is interesting to someone. Perhaps the person sharing the story is getting a little bit of enjoyment out of putting just the right words to their experience.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Well put, thank you!

– March 05, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

Hawaii in July

We are headed to the Big Island in July for my husband's high school reunion (I know - lucky me!). All the airfares we are seeing right now are around $1000/person. I've tried using the airfare predictor on Bing to get a feel for whether this is a decent price, but to no avail. Should we buy now or wait? Thanks for your help!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I don't think you're going to see much cheaper fares from Washington. You might do better by booking it in two segments. In other words, book round-trip flights from here to the West Coast and then from the West Coast to Hawaii. But there are no summer sales yet from the West Coast -- announced sales apply to travel through early June. Also, be careful if booking this way, as you won't be covered if you miss the leg from West Coast to Hawaii -- this strategy works best for those staying a day or two enroute. I'd maybe wait a few weeks to see what transpires. Also, Hawaiian Airlines has a new nonstop between JFK and Oaha that's $852 round trip for summer travel. But you'd still have to get to NY and then from Oahu to the Big Island, so no deal there. 

– March 05, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

Provincetown, MA

Hi, my husband and I are traveling to Provincetown, MA this weekend. Any recommendations of restaurants or things to do? (Especially things to do or restaurants that are open this time of year?)
A.
Jane Touzalin :

On the Provincetown.com Web site you'll find a tab titled "Entertainment and Events" that lists events day by day and also mentions restaurants that are open during the off-season. Maybe some chatters familiar with Provincetown in winter will have suggestions?

– March 05, 2012 12:40 PM
Q.

Train

To answer the person about the Rocky Moutaineer. I really enjoyed the trip. You can start either in Vancouver, BC or Calgary, Alberta or Jasper or Baniff Alberta Canada. You will make one over night stop and you will board the next morning to your destination. It is a very scenic tour.

Q.

memorable train trips

Soon after we married, my wife left to teach English in a Le Havre high school for a year. We had plans to meet in Paris and take a train to Tours to visit friends. Although we made plans to meet at the station, we didn't know just how big it was and spent hours trying to find each other. We finally fell into each other's arms about 10 minutes after our train left. So, we just hopped onto the next train (a TGV) without tickets, figuring we could pay on board. And you know what -- throughout the entire ride, we never even saw a conductor.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Hmm, hope the conductor isn't reading today's chat!

– March 05, 2012 12:41 PM
Q.

Quick and relaxing trip from DC

Hello travel gurus! My husband is taking the bar exam in July and we'd like to take a vacation somewhere immediately afterward to relax and unwind. We only have a few days off of work, so somewhere we can get to quickly with a direct flight from DC/Baltimore would be ideal. Any suggestions?
A.
Becky Krystal :

OK, you've got to give us a little more guidance! What do you like to do? What kind of scene are you looking for?

– March 05, 2012 12:41 PM
Q.

Galapagos Islands

Please recommend a travel agency for a trip to the Galapagos. We do not snorkel or dive and would like a tour that focusses on hiking and nature watching. Many years ago, we had used LARC Tours for our trip to Peru and found them very reasonable. Are they still a good bet? Thanks. Oakton, VA
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I answered a very similar question earlier. Check the transcript for some links, but let us know if you need more info.

As for LARC, never used them, but if the chatters have . . .

 

– March 05, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

Cross-country trains

Decades ago I had the time to take the Capital Limited out of DC, then the Super Chief (stopped at Grand Canyon), the Coast Starlight, then the Empire Builder (stopped at Glacier National Park). Memories to last a lifetime!
A.
Melanie Kaplan :

Good to know--those are on my list!

– March 05, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

California Zephyr

I can't believe you were early! When my husband I rode the Zephyr from Reno to Chicago, the train was 8 hours late out of Reno (and that's pretty near the start of the route - it only got worse). We went through the Rockies in the middle of the night.
A.
Melanie Kaplan :

Yes, from what I understand the times vary quite a bit.. At several points we were late between stations, but we made up time--the schedule is padded with a lot of extra time because they expect to have freight train delays. I have heard stories like yours though, and it's unfortunate you missed the Rockies. Some folks in a train a day before me were delayed by 9 hours and they asked if they could wait and get on our train for that specific reason--so they could see the Rockies during the day.  As you know, all it takes is one freight train in front of you that's derailed  to really mess up the schedule!

– March 05, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

Two Days in Dublin (HOHO Bus Tour)

For the person spending two days in Dublin, take the Hop On Hop Off Tour of Dublin city with the live commentary. A great way to orient your self to the city and you can go back separately to spend more time at places that interest you.  The days you are there matter somewhat. Mondays most museums are closed for example and Sundays have shorter opening hours. Hop on the Dublin Area Rapid Transit train which skirts Dublin Bay. Head north and/or south and enjoy Howth, for example to the north or Dun Laoghaire, Killiney etc to the south.

Q.

Traditions@ the Glen

Thank you for the article about my hometown and Traditions @ the Glen! I ate a lot of ice cream at the old IBM Country Club with my Grandpa. I will say that the Country Club was not just for the 1% (although rumor growing up was that there were a lot of old millionaries in the area because they were paid in stock when IBM started). Growing up, it was assumed that your Dad worked at IBM (mine didn't). The Country Club was for IBM employees and retirees back when corporations took care of their employees. (I am 36, so it was not that long ago!) My grandparents had bowling and golf leagues that I believe were free and every summer they had free field days for their employees and families. IBM was started in the area and at one time, was a huge part of the economy there. It was really sad for the area when IBM started losing money in the early to mid 1990s and started to change these benefits and when the country club was eventually sold. Nice to see that they're doing something good with it now, but it's still a symbol for what used to be up in that area.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks for the memories!

– March 05, 2012 12:44 PM
Q.

In favor of personal travel stories

What separates good travel tips from personal travel stories is that the personal travel stories tend to address the issue of WHY WE TRAVEL, not just how. So I vote in favor of keeping the personal travel stories on this chat.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 12:45 PM
Q.

Machu Picchu

You can take a train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, the town near Machu Picchu, and then take a bus up to the site itself. I recommend that instead of actually staying at Machu Picchu--it's very remote and there's not much there, while Cuzco is very inexpensive yet beautiful and full of interesting things to see. I used G Adventures for my trip and highly, highly recommend them.
Q.

Galapagos Island

I am planning a trip to the Galapagos Island for the month of July. I am interested in knowing if there is a good travel agency that can help me with my planning. I am very confused with the options and the islands I can visit. I am finding the price to be very high not just for a small cruise (16 to 20 passengers) but also the airfare from Quito to the Galapagos. Can someone help? Thanks, Mayra
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I responded to a similar question earlier; check the questions and answers for links to organizations that help with planning.

Prices are higher than your typical cruise. I would, however, go for the smaller vessel; the more intimate experience is worth it. You might be able to find a trip that includes air from Quito. Our What's the Deal? column frequently mentions them.

– March 05, 2012 12:46 PM
Q.

For the month-long sabbatical

Um, after buying tickets for four people to go to Indonesia, NZ, or Australia, you won't have much of your $10K budget left...
A.
Becky Krystal :

Another idea would be a cross-country road trip. Or a shorter one that hits up a bunch of the national parks since the original poster likes nature and wildlife.

– March 05, 2012 12:46 PM
Q.

Provincetown

Favorite restaurant there, hands down, year after year, is The Mews. I think it is open year round.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 12:47 PM
Q.

machu

I've been to machu picchu two times, and both times, I took the train from Cusco and got off about 15 km from the ruins and hiked the rest. It is great and totally worth it. You must have a guide to do this.  Instead of taking 4 days to do the whole trail (which I've heard is also awesome), we could just catch an early train, hike the 15 km, and arrive to the ruins on foot, which is amazing. I don't remember this being extremely costly as one of the times I did it I was about 23 and didn't have any money!

A.
Andrea Sachs :

Great way to see one of the world's great wonders.

– March 05, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Re: Russia Travel

Last week a chatter was asking about Russia travel. My husband and college-age daughter went to Moscow & St. Petersburg last year on a trip organized by Travel All Russia and were very happy with it.
Q.

For the Dublin Traveler

I was in Dublin for two days a few years ago. Highlights were the university and (even though it sounds corny) the tour of the Guinness plant.
Q.

Memorable train trip

Going from Vienna to Berlin, a year before the Berlin Wall came down, AMEX sold me a ticket but didn't tell me I needed an advance visa from Czechoslovakia. I spent the night under guard at Ceske Velenice on the border, waiting for the return train to Vienna. Then used my Eurail pass to go to Nuremberg, and an overnight train to Berlin -- interesting to watch the de-barked Alsatians running along and under the cars at the East German borders, looking for escapes. The dogs kept "yapping" their mouths but no sound came out. The East German trains appears to be from the 1930s, and were so slow that it was easy to fall asleep.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Did Bogart then step out of the shadows and light your cigarette?!!

– March 05, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

Boston hotels

Last time I was in Boston, we stayed at a lovely Kimpton hotel in Cambridge (Hotel Marlowe). It was near the T, but was also totally walkable into downtown. Much cheaper, and they had great free amenities such as bikes and evening drinks. We even took a kayak out into the Charles.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

Re: train to Machu Picchu

There is an inexpensive alternative to the Hiram Bingham train (very geared to the tourist market) from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. It was about $20 or so when I went in 1998. You do need to be cautious, however, as there is the very real danger of getting your belongings stolen if you aren't watchful (ie. don't fall asleep during the 4 hour trip). We saw this happen. For people who are okay with a basic train trip, nothing luxurious, it's fine. The train takes you to Aguas Calientes and from there you can either take a bus up to the ruin of MP, or walk (which takes about an hour).
Q.

Central Europe -

Hello, Am in the early stages of planning a trip to Central Europe (Vienna/Prague). We would like to go in August. Is this a bad time to visit (i.e., can we expect restaurants/museums/attractions to be closed for summer holidays? When is a good time to purchase flights? Can 2 adults take this trip (10-12 days) for $6k or less including airfare? Thanks for any advice.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Start checking fares on a regular basis now via the third-party booking sites and the airline sites -- Austrian Airlines flies nonstop to Vienna, and they also offer vacation packages. When you see fares dip, buy. I would not choose to go to Vienna in August -- it's hot, tourists are everywhere and many of the locals have escaped. I'd instead look at September, when temperatures cool, fares are cheaper and everything is open. And yes, you should be able to do this trip for $6,000 or less.  

– March 05, 2012 12:50 PM
Q.

Train ride story and tips

I took the TranzAlpine and Taieri Gorge railways in the South Island of New Zealand. Fantastic scenery, some of which was not viewable except from the train and they were definitely memorable rides. However, in the interest of last week's commenter asking for actual travel tips and not personal stories, I will say that the seats are assigned in advance and not all of them have full windows next to them. Furthermore, the Taieri Gorge railway cars are historic and have teeny tiny seats with next to no legroom, so it was not in any way a comfortable ride. Bonus tip - Amtrak from Vancouver to Seattle is sometimes not a train, but a bus, so use caution when booking if you really have your heart set on a train ride.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks for the personal and the practical tidbits.

– March 05, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Personal Stories

The problem is that so many are long, poorly-written, and just not interesting. If there's a disaster involved, or some sort of challenge, or it involves an exotic locale, then that's one thing. Talking about how much you used to love to ride in the family station wagon to Aunt Gladys's house... gimme a break! I also propose a moratorium on, "Can I fly direct from Dulles to X?" or "How much does a flight from BWI to X cost?" That information can easily be found via google or any user-friendly travel site, and isn't appropriate for a travel chat. If you can't figure out how to book a flight online, you need a travel agent, not a travel chat.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Afraid I disagree. People are obviously writing fast, so we're not expecting War and Peace. I think the interesting anecdotes generally outnumber the less-than-fascinating ones. I like letting people talk about their travels. As to the other questions, those are the ones people routinely ask. And we're happy to help however we can, even if it's to gently steer people to a travel agent. . . :-)

– March 05, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Grace Bay Turks and Caicos recommendations

We were there last year (4th trip overall), stayed at Royal West indies (perfect). Lot's more interesting restaurants this time. Highly recommend the Lemon Cafe (Morroccan) and Garam Masala (Indian)--both a short walk from most of the resorts on the main road. Avoid Mango Reef (unless it has improved ALOT). Also new on the main road is a "gourmet" IGA , which is a great option for good and reasonably priced breakfast pastries and coffee (they have a nice outdoor seating area) and sandwiches and salads. Things to do: do not miss the snorkeling at Coral Gardens! The conch farm was moderatley interesting--we biked there, so got our excersie--but I wouldn't make a special trip.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks so much for the tips!

– March 05, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Train trip

We rode a train to 'nowhere' in Leadville Co. Leadville is a very small former mining town that is very high up. It's a couple hours from the Vail/Beavercreek area. The train runs straight out of town for a few hours. You sit facting out the windows and see very little except greenery [I dont think it runs in the winter.] It is truly a tourist event only. Very boring but one of the few things to do in town. I think it was about 4 hours round trip. At $25/each it was pretty much a waste of time and money, so I can safely say we won't be doing that again, but it was kind of fun at the time. Restfull if nothing else!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I drove to Leadville and seemed to have the same experience as you!

– March 05, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

train trip

When I was in europe for a semester abroad, we went to oktoberfest - from france to germany. The trains took forever, and there were numerous delays, and there were overcrowded cars, and we had to switch trains a few times. So we had to switch at like, I don't know, 1 AM. We ended up sharing a compartment with a bunch of germans who were in their 20s too. And they were definitely into heavy metal music. So they played it. We were tired, but played along, we got along GREAT,we shared food, they taught us some german, and we all had great fun on the train to munich. Today, I believe, kids who study abroad fly everywhere...which is sad, cause they miss out on all the fun I had on the trains. ---I don't agree with most people last week, and do think that these questions/answers are fun!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I loved your story, and your support of personal anecdotes.

– March 05, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

Solo Travel to Caribbean

I could really use some beach time but I'll be travelling myself. Any ideas on good places for a single female traveler? I though about Jamaica but it's a 90 minute cab ride from the airport to Negril so I'm a little leery. I'm looking for a small boutique resort that's not too far from the airport with a decidedlt laid-bak vibe. Definitely not looking for a big party resort.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I would not recommend Jamaica, to be honest, unless you are very saavy traveler. I would choose St. Johns, reachable by ferry from St. Thomas. 

– March 05, 2012 12:56 PM
Q.

Train trip

At about 2 a.m. on the second night of a 36-hour train trip from Prague to Moscow I took 20 years ago, the conductor ran down the halls, banging on compartment doors, and yelling something like, "Gggzzyaas, gggzzyaas!" My friend turned to me and said, "I think he said gypsies." We checked the lock, went back to sleep, and never did find out if there were any Gypsies on board - and if there were, if it was anything to be worried about. By the way, between Prague and Moscow, there are a lot of wheat fields, a few industrial cities, and not much else.
A.
Melanie Kaplan :

I'm thankful I didn't have that conductor on my trip!

– March 05, 2012 12:56 PM
Q.

Wonderful Train Travel

A couple years ago I was traveling with my sister in Europe, and we were going from Munich to Salzburg. It's about a 2 hour ride, and because it was the beginning of December, we happened to luck out with some snowfall. It made the landscape outside look like a fairy tale - we took so many pictures of snow-covered fields with colorful gingerbread-style houses with lightly dusted evergreens on the mountains behind them that it almost seems silly. A truly beautiful (and EASY!) train ride.
Q.

Nature Tours to Galapagos

Quest Nature Tours to Galapagos might be worth looking at. Not sure of size of groups or cost.

Q.

Boston Hotels

The Boston area in early June is never inexpensive--it's college graduation season. Way too many proud families. That said, my family stayed out in Marlborough, drove to commuter rail and took that in to Cambridge/Boston for my graduation. It worked well.
Q.

Tips versus stories

Split the baby and have two chats!
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Maybe if we had two staffs. :-)

– March 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Train Trip from Alfred Hitchcock

When I was studying abroad in London, my roommate and I decided to travel to Portugal over spring break, starting on a southern beach and then taking a train up to Lisbon. She spoke fluent Portuguese, since she grew up in Cape Verde, and so I knew I was going to depend on her to help us get around. We boarded the train in Praja de Rocha (I think? Many years ago!) and we knew we had to switch trains a couple of hours later. A half hour or so into the trip, as the train is lumbering along and my roommate and I are trying to take a nap, a very drunk Portuguese man forced his way into our compartment (yes it was locked!). My roommate continued to pretend to be asleep (she startled awake when I did, I saw her!) I searched frantically for an emergency call button but couldn't find one. To my surprise, the man sat down and started talking and gesticulating, and I realized he was just trying to chat up the pretty girls. I spoke a tiny bit of French at the time, and I tried it out, and it turned out that he did speak French. So we talked in circles for about ten terrifying (for me) minutes, he complimented my French accent a number of times, until I finally convinced him that we wanted to be left alone to take a nap. He agreed to leave only if he could come back and wake us up for our next train (I guess our car was in the transfer section?). I told him to come back 15 minutes AFTER our transfer to try to avoid him. As the train slowed for our stop, my roommate and I knelt down and ran under the windows, off the train, across the platform, onto the next train, into our new sleeper cabin, and ducked under those windows. I looked up once and saw him coming down the other train, knock on what was our door, then pound on it, then break in, and throw pillows and blankets around. Mercifully our train then started to move away as he banged his way back out of the room, looking out the window at the platform for us. Oddly, I didn't really realize how much danger we had been in until much later, and now this story is part of the romantic collective of European trains in my mind!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Okay, that is deeply disturbing, but glad you escaped.

– March 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Month long sabbatical

I'd suggest you fly out west to and rent an RV and go and explore the different parks. I'd suggest Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and new Mexico. The other option is to do the Rockies from glacier down to Colorado.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Just the kind of thing I had in mind.

– March 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Train Romance

Hi crew - When I was in high school trip to Europe with my classmates from Upstate New York (a reward for suffering through French class with decent grades) we took what was billed as "the Orient Express" from Munich to Paris. Sitting outside the compartments in the hallway in the middle of the night, the geeky kid that I was sort of fond of at school made his move and kissed me. He became my first "real" boyfriend and that sweet, innocent romance made the trip even more memorable. Soft spot for trains ever since.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

So sweet!

– March 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Travel to the Greek Islands

Many years ago when I went "Island hopping" in the Greek Islands the local people would meet the ferries at the dock to offer rooms to rent in their homes or other places. Does this still happen, even during the months of June, July and August?
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Anybody know? I haven't been to the Greek islands in many years. . .

– March 05, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Best part about the Cuzco-Machu Picchu train

Glass ceilings so you can see the Andes all around you :)
Q.

Off to New Mexico!

I'm off to Taos and Santa Fe for six days at the end of this month. Do you or any chatters know some new, hot restaurants that are "can't miss" in either city? Taos suggestions would be particularly appreciated, since I've never been there before.
A.
Becky Krystal :

For Santa Fe, here's a fairly recent Postcard from restaurant critic Tom Sietsema.

Anyone have recommendations for Taos?

– March 05, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

Boston Hotel Prices

If you don't mind staying near the airport, that might be a better option for you. Reasonably easy to get into the city, fairly inexpensive (about $150 per night), but it'll cost you a cab ride to get anywhere. My parents took this option when they came up for my law school graduation last year, when virtually every hotel in the city was booked solid. (Fair warning: if you're looking for a cheap city vacation, Boston is the wrong destination. Be prepared to pay a lot for everything.)
A.
Carol Sottili :

Cab rides can add up and public transportation is time consuming. I'd probably pony up and pay more for a downtown hotel. Maybe try a site such as Hotwire or Priceline

– March 05, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

For the record: Personal stories

I LOVE them. I don't much care for the other questions of a logistical nature-- I have lots of young kids (okay only two, but it feels like many more) and we can't travel like we used to. I love this chat because I remember something I had long forgotten during almost every chat, and always in response to a story! Please keep the current format!!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Much more defenders this week. Thanks for chiming in.

– March 05, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

36 hour train/bus ride for a 12 hour visit

I studied abroad in Cairo about a decade ago. Along with other study abroad students, we spent our weekends and breaks and heck, some school days visiting other areas of Egypt. One memorable trip was the last minute decision to visit Abu Simbel to see the four Ramses statues. We took a 13-hour train to Aswan and a bus from there. We then took the bus in the evening back to Aswan and caught the train back. Totally worth it, though.
Q.

Ecuador/Galapagos

I completely second the recommendation to book a trip on a smaller boat than a larger one. I did a cruise in 2004, and there were 10 people on our boat (outside of the staff), and it was wonderful. I still keep in touch with one of the boat crew, and it was so much more personal to have such a small group exploring paradise together. I will also remind folks that non-Ecuadorian citizens are each charged 100.00 (at least back then) for access to the Galapagos islands. Also, you will need to fly into the capital city of Quito or the coastal city of Guayaquil and then book another flight to the islands. Quito is definitely worth a couple of days. Ecuador is a lovely, lovely place.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

thanks!

– March 05, 2012 1:00 PM
Q.

Switzerland

is there ever a "bad" time to visit switzerland ? i'm thinking of going in Sept because it fits in my schedule. But are there better seasons ?
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Fall is actually the perfect time -- not a lot of tourists, and the weather is pretty decent. September is my favorite month to visit that area. Unless you're a skier, I can't think of a better time.

– March 05, 2012 1:00 PM
Q.

Toy Store Harrowgate +

A.
Becky Krystal :

Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 1:00 PM
Q.

Got mail?

Bring your address book. The OC&T RR operates the only working Railway Post Office in the United States. We need more rolling Post Offices. I still use a lap desk.
Q.

Rovos Rail

I took a trip on the Rovos rail about ten years ago with my sister and my parents. My sister and I shared one of the two honeymoon suites on our ride from Cape Town to Pretoria and they put rose petals on our bed each night. Very romantic for the two of us! We found the train beautiful, but the ride itself was shaky, and we were bored out of our minds with no newspapers, no books, no tvs and most of the people on the train were older. My sister and I were late 20s, early 30s at the time. Stopping in Kimberly was fun to see through its basically just a recreated tourist trap. The highlight of the trip was the last morning where they transferred us to the steam engine for the last 3 hours of the trip. The steam was super neat. I could have just taken a 3 hour train trip on the steam part of it though.
A.
Zofia Smardz :

Thanks for sharing (though sorry you were bored -- no books? You might have thought of that :-)).

– March 05, 2012 1:01 PM
Q.

Austrian Incursion

I bought a 5-journey, 3-country eurail ticket for Germany, Italy and France - I think it was in 1998, before european visa integration. My itinerary was Munich-Venice-Florence-Rome-Nice-Milan. On the first leg of the journey, I went south through the scenic Alps. At a stop, an Austrian border official checked passports, then a few minutes later, the rail conductor checked tickets. He told me my ticket wasn't valid in Austria, and I had to pay so many Shillings. To make matters worse I only had large D-Mark and Dollar notes, and got my change in Shillings, and I had no idea what the proper exchange rate was since I handn't planned on being in Austria. I soon learned that rail travel isn't like air travel - there is no such thing as being "in transit" and not subject to the local passport and ticket controls. I wish the folks who sold the ticket had warned me what to expect.
Q.

Cheap European Flights

Are there any cheaper 'fly in' destinations to Europe from the Midwest (Chicago-Detroit)? I've been looking to fly to Vienna for the late spring or early autumn, and ticket prices are through the roof. Is there likely to be a cheaper route to a hub in Europe, or should I check out a North American gateway for better luck?
A.
Carol Sottili :

It's sometimes cheaper to fly out of the New York City area because  there are two major international airports (JFK and Newark) and many competing airlines. But when you add the cost of a flight from Chicago to New York, those savings may evaporate. Chicago has plenty of options. Have you tried looking at Aer Lingus into Dublin? Fares are running less than $1,000. But again, adding the cost of the ticket to Vienna may negate all savings.  

– March 05, 2012 1:01 PM
Q.

Turks & Caicos

Trying to get in under the wire! For the T&C traveler, don't miss Upstairs Bar & Grill or Las Brisas. They are both phenomenal!
Q.

Nightmare train trip

Travelling several hundred miles in North India in May ... 115 degrees. Thought we'd be OK in the AC cars, but then the power went out. And the windows didn't open. Conditions became oven-like pretty quickly.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Ugh. I am starting sweat already.

– March 05, 2012 1:02 PM
Q.

Train travel

My father was rather stubborn, and as such caused a number of stressful situation for the family on a number of train trips. Once we were traveling between Toronto and Milwaukee; he insisted on getting out in Kalamazoo MI to buy a newspaper. My mother tried to convince him - to no avail - that the train would not stop long enough. True, he was left at the station! (Luckily he did have his wallet with him and the bus station is right next door to the train station in Kalamazoo.) A number of years later we were taking a train from northern Germany to a ferry that would take us to England. The border guards in Belgium made him get off the train because he didn't have a visa (he had a US green card, not a US passport)-- he had, naturally, ignored my mother's previous pleas that he procure a visa before our trip. He had to take care of the situation at the border, then catch a later train....he *barely* made the ferry.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I think your dad deserves this week's prize.

– March 05, 2012 1:03 PM
Q.

there's some extra work involved on the part of the airline when you bring the pet onboard

No time that I've flown with my pet have they ever done anything extra besides charge a huge fee. Oh, and you can't check in online, you have to stand in a separate line to pay the fee, which takes forever usually. I've never had them look at the dog, look at her papers (which also cost around $50 to get from the vet) or anything else. It's a complete waste (exept that the airline gets a lot of money for nothing).
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Thanks for the feedback on that.

– March 05, 2012 1:03 PM
Q.

Train trips

Every summer when my family went to India, we would take an overnight train trip from our hometown to visit a particular temple. We'd spend the day there and then overnight train back. In those days, the trains did not provide food or linens, so we would pack pillows and sheets in what we referred to as a "hold all" -- sort of a duffel bag that you would lay everything out on and then roll up. And when the train went across a bridge over the Ganges River, my sisters and I would throw coins out the window as an offering ... apparently people regularly collected change from the bridge after a train passed, since a lot of people didn't throw it far enough to make it to the water!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Fascinating. Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Thank you for answering my question about airfare to Hawaii in July!

Is it sometimes cheaper to travel out of the NY airports versus DC? We could do this if it would mean significant savings on the fare.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Yes, sometimes it is cheaper to fly out of New York, but it does depend on the route. As I said in earlier post, there is a new nonstop on Hawaiian Airlines from JFK to Oahu. 

– March 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Boston hotels

When we went to Boston last summer we stayed outside the city and took the train in to North Station (we stayed in Wakefield). It's about a 25 minute ride into the city and we walked around the city. It's cheaper than staying in the city...
Q.

Boston Hotels

I have found that it really helps to not stay in the heart of Boston. If you are willing to ride the T a couple stops out to the edge of Brookline you can find much better rates. I think you can get a room for ~$120/night at the Holiday Inn Brookline, which is right next to the T stop. it's not the best hotel in the world, but it is perfectly functional, and even has an indoor pool for the kids.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Thanks!

– March 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

smuggled pets

Airlines also restrict the number of animals on board. I'd be really unhappy to discover 5 cats in my vicinity since they'd likely have to land the plane to deal with my severe asthma attack.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

I would be, too. This is such a compelling topic, I discovered I've already written about it!

– March 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Pet in a ziploc

Or what she has the pet in...I guess her purse....I have issue with it. I have severe allergies to dogs and cats and could not handle sitting next to them on a long flight.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Pet in a ziploc? That sounds like a one-way trip.

– March 05, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Train Travel

A friend and I were living in Romania and headed to Budapest for the weekend. We both spoke fairly decent Romanian, but the trains there are not necessarily well-marked. Well, we somehow ended up on the train back into Romania instead of the one headed west. We realized relatively quickly, but the train wasn't local (which would have been a good thing had we been on the correct train), so the next stop was relatively far back into the country. We ended up spending the afternoon in Deva, which is best-known for being the site of Romania's gymnastics training.
Q.

train travel

I was studying abroad, and going back to france, which means I ended up going through italy. During rush hour. It was fantastic. All those beautiful italian men in their designer italian suits. (I'm female, by the way). Great memories.
Q.

For "Solo Beach Trip"

Have you considered the island of Santa Maria in the Azores (Portugal)? Beaches, vineyards, history (Columbus stopped there en route home on his first voyage): http://www.worldtravelguide.net/holidays/editorial-feature/feature/where-go-holiday-march-2012
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Good choice.

– March 05, 2012 1:05 PM
Q.

Cannonball

http://octrr.org/ I rode this line with an old banker before the Cannonball arrived.
Q.

Andrea Sachs :

Thanks all for such a great hourlong ride on trains,  planes and vacation dreams. The winner for this week: The chatter with the wandering dad. Please email me at sachsa@washpost.com with your address.

See you next Monday!

Q.

 

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