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June 11, 2012

12:02
P.M.

Talk about Travel: Hiking Nepal, "Portlandia" in Portland and more

Total Responses: 83

About the hosts

About the host

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.

Becky Krystal

Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.

Jane Touzalin

Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.

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.

Becky Krystal :

Good Monday morning, traveling friends. Thanks for being here. Were you inspired by our Nepal hiking story? Did our Portland story drive you to Netflix to watch "Portlandia"? Want to go star-gazing after reading our Escapes on Cherry Springs State Park? That last one brings us to my question for today. Tell us about your most memorable star- or other astronomy-gazing, or the best place you've found for looking at the heavens. I remember seeing the Hale-Bopp comet when I was in Colorado as a kid. Talk about a great spot for watching the sky.

Let's get started!

Q.

Security Screenngs at LHR

I flew home from London last week and was surprised that I did not have to take my shoes off to go through security. (I did at Dulles on the way over.) Do they have better or different machines? On a related front I always take sox to wear whle walking through the machines. All those bare feet have to equal germs. Ugh!
A.
Christopher Elliott :

You don't have to remove your shoes in England unless you're asked. Here are Heathrow's guidelines for screening. Here in the States, we have similar procedures for "trusted" travelers who are using TSA's new PreCheck. Here's hoping it will do the same thing for the rest of us soon. And yes ... always wear socks, in the meantime.

– June 11, 2012 12:02 PM
Q.

Dulles to Berlin

I find it incomprehensible that there are no non-stop flights from IAD to Berlin. Do you have an explanation? Thanks very much.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Non-stop flights are not nearly as common as they once were. In order to save money, airlines have moved toward using hubs. This means that most flights will fly nonstop only to a few destinations. Additionally, you have more airlines codesharing, which also means fewer flights. And Berlin is not a very popular destination from the U.S.  I believe United flies nonstop from Newark.

– June 11, 2012 12:03 PM
Q.

Cleveland

We've opted to spend part of our vacation next week with my husband's parents in Cleveland. We've been there lots to visit them, but we don't generally do a lot of sight seeing. Other than the Rock and Roll Museum, what else is there to do there? We might spend a day at Cedar Point, but that depends on how hot it is. We are willing to drive a little bit away from the city.
A.
Becky Krystal :

West Side Market is something I recommend to everyone going to Cleveland. The Cleveland Botanical Garden is lovely. And did you know there were beaches? Going to an Indians game is another fun activity. You could also drive out to Chagrin Falls, a pretty little town where you can chow down on one of my all-time favorite foods, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

– June 11, 2012 12:06 PM
Q.

Marriott Deal

In yesterday's paper, a deal for Marriott (stay twice, get a free night) was listed. I went, as directed, to Marriott's web site, and could not locate this offer among the 273 listed. I then called Marriott customer service, who knew nothing about it, either. Could you please provide some details on where you saw this offer and how to sign up for it?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Here is the link.

It is listed under Marriott Rewards deals.

– June 11, 2012 12:06 PM
Q.

carrying dry cake mix

We are flying on Condor Airlines from BWI to Frankfurt,Germany in July. Friends want us to bring some Pillsbury cake mixes as well as dry Pancake mix. Can we take the boxes in our hand luggage or do we have to pack them inside the suitcase? The boxes are heavy and we would prefer to take them on board rather then having them take up room and weight in our cases.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

There are no prohibitions I'm aware of against cake mixes, unless they contain frosting, which the TSA would consider a liquid or gel. Keep it in the original box in case you have questions. If it were me, I'd pack the mix in my checked luggage. It's just not the kind of thing you want cluttering the overhead bin.

– June 11, 2012 12:07 PM
Q.

Price of One-Way ticket

My son has been in Africa for several years and is now leaving. He wants to buy a one-way ticket to Paris. Air France is the only airline that has a direct flight from his city in Africa to Paris. They want $2,300 for a one-way ticket, but only $1,000 for a round trip ticket!! Are there any repercussions for buying a round-trip ticket, then cancelling the return trip after he arrives in Paris?
A.
Carol Sottili :

A quick look at Air France's legal documents re: ticket rules indicates they prohibit this type of ticketing. That said, I have never heard of anyone being hunted down by an airline for doing this. But don't ever try using the second leg of a round-trip ticket without taking the first leg -- your return flight will have been canceled.

– June 11, 2012 12:09 PM
Q.

Meeting midway

Good afternoon. I'm looking for a long weekend destination for late-August that's roughly midway between Tampa and DC. Ideally, it would have affordable lodging, not require a rental car, and offer outdoor, cultural, culinary, and shopping opportunities for two females in their mid-thirties. Beach not necessary but OK. Any ideas? Thanks!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I vote for Charleston. Seems like it fits all of your needs.

– June 11, 2012 12:12 PM
A.
Becky Krystal :

Just what I was going to say. When I was there in December, I took a cab from the airport. You won't need a car to explore the city. We did everything by foot.

– June 11, 2012 12:12 PM
Q.

TSA Screeners

My mother and I can identify with the elderly person in last week's chat who was afraid to call out the TSA screeners who let the world know that s/he was wearing adult diapers for fear of not being allowed to board the flight. My mother is 82, weighs 100 #. She has a pacemaker so cannot go through the metal detector. Afew weeks ago a small but stocky TSA screener pummeled her so badly that she had visible bruises for several days. She said "ouch" once involuntarily but we were both afraid to say anything more. Are the stories we hear unfounded? We were both afraid of being branded suspicious people and being put on the do not fly list, or worse.

A.
Christopher Elliott :

I'm sorry to hear about your mother's screening experience. Needless to say, it shouldn't have happened. You absolutely should speak up with a screener is doing something that makes you uncomfortable. I don't advocate making a scene, but you should let the TSO know he or she is hurting you, without question. And don't worry about the "no-fly" list. I've spoken with insiders at the TSA who say that's not how the list works -- people don't get added to it for complaining. (If they did, I would definitely be on the list.)

– June 11, 2012 12:14 PM
Q.

Train Travel

Two 55 + women plan to take Amtrak from D.C. to Saratoga, NY. This requires a 3 + hour layover in Penn Station, 3 a.m.. Any concerns for safety or comfort in the station at that time? Is there a place to safely store luggage in the station? Also, we can choose departure time to allow for either one hour or two hours between trains on the return trip. Would it be better to allow the longer layover so as not to miss the second train? Thanks!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Penn Station is pretty safe and well-policed even in the late hours. Just be wise: Don't leave unattended bags, for example. The station does have luggage storage for a fee and also waiting areas. 

To be safe, on the return, book the longer layover. If you get in on time, you might be able to hop on the earlier train for no charge. Ask the ticket office or conductor.

– June 11, 2012 12:14 PM
Q.

Vancouver in the summer

I am limited to 25 pounds of luggage and will be traveling in the first part of July to Vancouver and islands. I'm not sure how cold it will be on the sea, and what i need to pack. It's not a formal group, but it is affluent -- lots of walking and outdoor activities. Island hopping too.

A.
Becky Krystal :

Sounds like the weather will be nice. Here's some weather info on the island, along with apparel suggestions. Think summery clothes, light layers, some of which should be waterproof.

– June 11, 2012 12:15 PM
Q.

producer

the list to the right of the screen lists Friday's sessions, not toay's. this makes it hard to go between chats (and since the front page rarely has the full and accurate list of chats, the old list makes it hard to even know what chats are happenning today)
A.
Becky Krystal :

Grr, sorry about that. I will pass along.

– June 11, 2012 12:17 PM
Q.

washington DC

on service from Washington to Berlin, Condor starts service from BWI July 2.
A.
Carol Sottili :

I think Condor is starting nonstop service to Frankfurt from BWI.

– June 11, 2012 12:18 PM
Q.

Incomprehensible

There are lots of flights to Frankfurt, which is a much bigger city and important hub for connections. People in Berlin may ask why there are so few non-stops to Washington, but know they have lots of options with a connection in Frankfurt. There aren't non-stops from IAD to Brasilia, either, or even to Rio, but there are to Sao Paulo.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Yes, there are nonstop flights from IAD to Frankfurt, London and other cities in Europe that serve Berlin. Connections are a pain, but they're necessary in order to get to most destinations.

– June 11, 2012 12:19 PM
Q.

Star-gazing

I remember the first time I looked at the night sky during the middle of an "at sea" night while cruising and being simply amazed at all the stars. Because there was no land anywhere near us, there also were no lights to distract us or to cause any competition with the moonlight and starlight. It was so beautiful ~ I had no idea one could see so many stars and planets from anywhere on earth!
Q.

Vancouver weather

I live in Seattle and the weather is the same. Normal highs are n the low to mid 70s. If you hit a hot spell then mid 90s are possible. July is usually the dry season so rain is unlikely. If a front happens to move through then it could be cooler like in the mid 60s or it could be humid for the area in the summer when the temps are around 70 with rain.
Q.

Penn Station Layover

Just to second what you had said about Penn Station feeling safe! I had a layover there last winter and was surprised by how safe and clean it felt. They have passenger-only seating areas and a number of shops below ground that would be good for grabbing a newspaper or tasty donut and coffee. Granted, I was there around midnight and not 3 a.m. but it was much, much nicer than any New York transportation memories from my childhood. Plus, with three people you can take turns watching the bags and exploring!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Glad you had such a positive experience at Penn.

Now,  if you had asked me about Port Authority, I would have had a much different answer.

– June 11, 2012 12:26 PM
Q.

War of 1812 in Baltimore

Hi there, I know Baltimore is not very far, but do you have any tips to go and stay in Baltimore for the War of 1812 anniversary events. Thanks!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Here's a huge package our Weekend section had on Friday.

– June 11, 2012 12:26 PM
Q.

Family trip

Hello Travel Crew. We have five days to take our family (two adults/two elementary boys) on vacation. I would really love to find something like Portland, ME, without having to drive the 11 hours which would, for the most part, use up two of our five days. Is there a place like Portland (beach, cool town/village, history, LOBSTER) between DC and Maine that could satisfy all of our wants? Thank you!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Here are some closer ideas:

Long Island (Hamptons, Shelter Island, Montauk, etc.)

Boston and Marblehead or Cape Cod

Providence/Block Island, R.I.

Portsmouth, N.H.

– June 11, 2012 12:27 PM
Q.

Vancouver in the summer

I've lived in Vancouver and DC... The website gives the temperatures in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. For someone from DC, think fall / spring weather, not summer. It may go up to 80F, but that is about as hot as Vancouver gets. It's more likely to be around 70F and on the water can be cool. I'd pack layers with a rainproof jacket and a fleece.
Q.

Best Sky-gazing?

I spent summers growing up at our family cabin in the North Woods of northern Wisconsin (near the Nicollet National Forest). My favorite sky-gazing experience there was being woken up at about age 6 and having my dad carry me out to the dock to see the Northern Lights flicker above the lake. One of the most amazing things I've ever seen.
Q.

Star gazing

One of the best places to star gaze is the area in Utah between Bryce and Torrey where you have Bryce canyon, escalante, and Capitol reef. It's one of the spots in the USA farthest away. From large cities which gives light pollution. I regularly go there and the night sky with the stars is amazing.
Q.

Ecuador

I am visiting Quito and Gallapagos in July. Can you please refer me to some blogs and guide books to do some research before I go there? Are there some articles in your archives?
A.
Becky Krystal :

For guidebooks, you can go with the usual suspects, I would think: Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, etc.

Here's some stuff from our archives:

"Galapagos Now"

"Upscale Markets. Way, Way Up."

– June 11, 2012 12:31 PM
Q.

30 minute rule from DCA

I had a flight attendant again last week talk about the mandatory rule that all passengers stay seated for the first 30 minutes of flights leaving from DCA. When I pointed out to him that that was no longer the case, he said a cop at the gate had told him to do it, but he'd keep it in mind. When I mentioned it to the pilot after we'd gotten off the plane, he was a total jerk about it and basically said the flight attendant went by his manual. It's been 7 years since that rule was rescinded. Should I be writing a letter to the airline? Just dealing with it? It just seems silly that with all the better things to be teaching airline personnel, they should at least have a working knowledge of the correct security rules...
A.
Christopher Elliott :

You're right, that rule was rescinded in 2005. Here's the announcement. Is it making a comeback? Good question -- I'll ask the TSA. Meantime, I wouldn't get into an argument over this. It's just another pointless security hassle we all have to deal with, unfortunately.

– June 11, 2012 12:31 PM
Q.

Afterthoughts to the last two chats

Copenhagen, somewhat off the beaten track: In addition to what was mentioned last week, go up the tower on Vor Frelserskirke if you're not afraid of heights (outside staircase) or up the Round Tower for panorama views of the city. On a pretty day go to New University Library (Black Diamond), get a cup of coffee and hang out outside by the harbor. Other places to hang out and watch the city go by: Christianshavn, Ny Havn in the evening (sit on the side next to the boats and picnic), Kongens Have (King's Garden, mentioned in the chat). I second the recommendation for day trips to Roskilde (Viking Museum is highly informative) and Helsingør. Didn't see Louisiana, but it's a must for art lovers. Not off the beaten track but not to be missed is harbor tour. For Leipzig (chat on the Monday before Memorial Day): Public transportation is good. See the Thomas Kirche and the Bach Museum. Motettes with the Thomas Kantorei are Friday afternoon and (I think) Saturdays. We didn't have time for the Forum Zeitgeschichte (exhibit on recent history - Leipzig had a leading role in the peaceful revolution of 1989), but it's on the list for the next trip. Cheap digs for the not so youthful anymore couple: I second the recommendation for hostels (which do not always belong to the Internation Youth Hostel system). You can often get a double room for a surcharge. Some hostels have common kitchens where you can prepare a light or uncomplicated meal. Do a search for "cheap" and "hostel" or "accommodation" and the city you're looking at. Cross-check the reviews on Tripadvisor if you're wary. In Leipzig we stayed in the guest house of the Leipzig Missionary Society for 20 Euros each (double occupancy, common bathrooms, common kitchen). Private bath costs only a little more.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Thanks for all the info.

– June 11, 2012 12:33 PM
Q.

Firm Beds and Regular Furniture

Where can one find firm beds anymore? Used to frequent Marriott, until the Marriott Bed was introduced. Could always count on Hyatt for firmness and standard furniture, but now the Hyatt Bed - squish!. Always can count on the Radisson with their Sleep Number Beds! Now they are being phased out. What's left? I'm terrified of traveling and having to sleep on floors and sit in painful ergonomic furniture. Every senior citizen, not most, but every one I ask prefers a firm bed and standard, frim, stuffed seating. Since we have the most money, and most time for travel, what gives? And ever thinking about a "comfy inn" sends fear through me. Any help?

A.
Becky Krystal :

Well, at Hilton Garden Inns, you can adjust the firmness of your bed.

– June 11, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

deals to California this Summer

Hello, My husband and I are taking our niece to visit her cousin in San Diego the 3rd Sunday in July. How can we score the best flight deal out of BWI? We'll happily fly into LAX or change planes if it would help.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Flights to California aren't cheap this summer. Even the sales have been in the $450+ range. Is there  a reason you need to fly on a Sunday? It's often cheaper to fly Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Also, expand your airports to Dulles and National, and maybe even Philadelphia, on this end. And on other end, take a look at John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I'd go to the Virgin America, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue Web sites to look for sales.

– June 11, 2012 12:34 PM
Q.

Europe direct flight

Either travel to airport hUbs here or go and fly out of JFK.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Yes, there are more nonstop flights out of JFK than Dulles. But getting to JFK is not all that simple or cheap. If I were going to Berlin, I'd rather fly nonstop to Frankfurt and then take a flight from there to Berlin.

– June 11, 2012 12:36 PM
Q.

Portlandia

I really enjoyed the article on Portland because I've always wanted to go -- your piece gave me some good tips on where to start. I have two questions. 1. How many days should one stay to get a good overview of the city? 2. The article focused on the positives but I'm curious about the negatives. I know Portland may be close to paradise but, like everywhere, I know there are downsides, too. These never seem to be mentioned but I'm curious. (And I'd still want to, of course!)
A.
Becky Krystal :

The author of that article, Robert DiGiacomo, says:

I was in Portland for about 2.5 days and that felt about right to get a good sense of it. It depends on interests. If you're the kind of person who could spend an entire day at Powell's, or if you want to check our wineries, you might want to budget some more time. Another factor is the weather –– I had sun, so the gardens were very appealing. If it were rainy, I would have done more indoor things.

I didn't find much wrong with it, to be quite honest. For better or worse, there isn't much of the East Coast edge, so the downside of Portland-nice is Portland-cult, and a feeling like a little irony would be a welcome tonic.

 

– June 11, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Airline seating for families, Chris's article

I am childless, I fly frequently, and it is in MY best interests for airlines to make sure children and parents are seated together. On several recent flights, parents begged other passengers to switch seats so they could sit with their children. On a cross-country flight (5 hours plus) I traded my aisle seat for a center seat further back so a mother could sit with her 4-year old. IT SHOULD NOT BE UP TO ME TO KEEP A FAMILY TOGETHER. I don't want to sit next to an anxious or unhappy child who has been separated from their parent. The airlines should stop making this my problem, and fix it.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

I agree. Part of the problem is that airline seat reservations systems are optimized for making money -- not seating families together. I think they need to address that before they can fix the problem. And the chances of them doing that are less than zero, in my opinion.

– June 11, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Annapolis?

My husband and I are thinking about taking a weekend trip to Annapolis, but we've never been there before. What are the must-see sites? And any tips on good restaurants? Thanks!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Our Annapolis neighborhood guide from our friends at the Going Out Guide is a good place to start.

– June 11, 2012 12:37 PM
Q.

Danish souvenir - Gammel Dansk

For the person who asked in Sunday's paper about Danish food and drink souvenirs, I can recommend Gammel Dansk. This is a bitter liqueur made only in Denmark, and traditionally part of festive occasions. Especially birthdays. Here is a Wikipedia discussion. If only Denmark's famous morning rolls and vienerbrod (what we call Danish) would survive a plane ride! And I don't recommend Danish licorice. It is salty, and nobody but Scandinavians seems to like it much.

A.
Becky Krystal :

Appreciate the follow-up.

– June 11, 2012 12:38 PM
Q.

What to do and where to stay in Vienna during Christmas and New Year's

My wife and I have always wanted to see Die Fleidermaus at the Vienna Opera House on New Year's Eve, and so we've at last bought the tickets -- but that's the extent of our planning. We have no idea where to stay, what else to see, or if Vienna is one of those places that closes up shop between Christmas and New Year's. Any tips/recommendations as to how and where to spend the rest of the week during that holiday time of year would be most appreciated.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Die Fledermaus is a lot of fun, even if you don't speak any German. Around that time of year, you'll also want to hit the Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt), which runs through Dec. 24. If you get up in time, go to the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's concert, which should be on everyone bucket list. 

– June 11, 2012 12:38 PM
Q.

Christmas travel planning

I'm leading the planning for our extended family of 12--grandparents, a couple without children and 2 families of 4 people--kids are 5, 5, 6, and 7. We're coming from California, upstate NY, Georgia and Virginia. Trying to find something for $2500 or less (except CA folks) per family, but 1 family's idea of a good time is vastly different than family 2. Trying to meet in the middle. Very flexible on location, but would love to find something warm. Grandma is super picky on lodging, so while it doesn't have to be luxury, we don't want to listen to grandma complain the whole time. We also want somewhere that has some things to do in addition to sitting on a beach or around a roaring fire, and Disney is out of the question. Bonus if they have something geared for Christmas. I'm stumped! Dates of travel are Dec. 23-27. Any ideas, I'm searched so many places I'm numb.
A.
Carol Sottili :

I think it will have to be a driveable destination for most of your crowd in order to keep to budget. Maybe Charleston, S.C.? It won't be warm, but shouldn't be freezing. Feel free to share ideas chatters.

– June 11, 2012 12:39 PM
Q.

We were all taking a summer class called...

Earth, Moon and Everybody (OK, it was called Earth Moon and Planets) over sophomore summer and I had fallen asleep at a pretty mellow frat party. A friend woke me up and said it was after midnight and wasn't this the night of the meteor shower that the prof had mentioned in class. So we went outside and realized the light bleed was too much even in our little corner of rural NH. Someone had a truck and we all piled in the back and drove over the river into Vermont and kept going until there had been no street lights for a while. We climbed over a fence into a famer's pasture and watched the height of the shower on our backs on the grass. We headed back after about an hour. Best stargazing combined with illegal tresspass ever.
Q.

Star Gazing

My most memorable was at Rombuk Monastery in Tibet - just below Everest Base Camp. I tried to sleep, but I swear the rooms hadn't been cleaned since the guesthouse had been built. Between dust allergies and the lack of oxygen, I spent a lot of time outside to catch my breath. I don't recall ever seeing so many stars - the sky was white with dots of blue! The fellow from east Texas wasn't as impressed, but I sure was!
Q.

cheapest way to stay in a fancy hotel

Hi - We would like to stay in a nice downtown DC for our anniversary. We have a date certain, but don't have a specific hotel preference - just that's it's a bit on the fancy and/or fun side (the W, the Ritz, Four Seasons, Hay Adams, etc.). We are also willing to wait until the very last minute. What is the best and cheapest way to do this? I have been following Quikbook, but haven't seen anything yet. What is your advice? Thanks!!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Sounds like you might be a prime candidate for a flash sale site. Sign up for Jetsetter, Groupon, Living Social, SniqueAway, Vacationist, etc.

– June 11, 2012 12:41 PM
Q.

Star Gazing

Paid a not insignificant amount of money to detour to Uluru/Ayers Rock. Saw it, walked around it, saw sunrise and sunset. Saw Katja Tuta/The Olgas - a similarly impressive formation - the next day. Took loads of photos. But the best memory I have from that trip was getting up from my tent in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As I walked, I looked up and saw more stars than I ever have in my entire life - and minimal light anywhere else on the ground. I couldn't get any photos, so all I have from that night - just seeing all those stars - is just in my mind. That's enough.
Q.

moving to portland

thanks for the story!!!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Lucky you. Enjoy!

– June 11, 2012 12:42 PM
Q.

Flying to Berlin

As someone who has flown to Germany from the US many times, I can say that getting a connecting flight in-country, say from Frankfurt to Berlin, is super easy! I've flown non-stop, too, but that transfer is really no big deal at all -- quick, safe, easy, and not necessarily more expensive than just stopping in Frankfurt. There's always the train, too, which would be comfortable but more work.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Thanks. And I'd definitely opt for connecting flight rather than train unless you want to stop along the way.

– June 11, 2012 12:42 PM
Q.

Chicago hotels

A friend is coming into Chicago by train arriving at Union Station. She wants to stay overnight in the Loop somewhere, close to the Blue Line (flying out of O'Hare the next day). Anyone have a hotel they can recommend in downtown Chicago?
A.
Becky Krystal :

I really liked the Talbott Hotel when I was in Chicago, but it's not by the Blue Line (although you can always transfer). Other suggestions?

– June 11, 2012 12:43 PM
Q.

star-gazing

About 20 years ago, my wife and I "horse camped" in eastern Oregon - Eagle Cap Wilderness. After a looong ride (the horses were fine, but my rear wasn't) we reached our campsite. The wrangler left with the horses, and we set up. Since we had brought two cooler with the pack horse, we had steaks wiith a bottle of champagne included for dinner. After a great meal, we relaxed and waited for full darkness - I've never seen so many stars, or had such a great view. For more excitement, coming and going, the trail led right by a small forest fire (in the wilderness areas, the Forest Service just lets them burn). On the return trip, trees on both sides of the trail were burning, but the wrangler just told us to keep our horses under loose hold, and we eased right through. A fantastic trip!
Q.

Star gazing

I was at Mosquito Bay on Vieques, PR--laying in the water with the flotation belt on on a clear night. Between the stars and the luminescence it was pretty magical--and then the fireworks started at a local fiesta--the whole evening was unforgettable.
Q.

Stargazing

On a trip to Australia, we found an observatory at a local elementary school, run by volunteers. They agreed to meet us there one night, and it was wonderful. In addition to seeing Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, we also saw some beautiful nebula. The volunteers were very friendly and knowledgeable, too.
Q.

Shenandoah National Park Area

Hi - my husband and I are taking a 2-3 day trip to NW Virginia next week. We planned on hiking in Shenandoah National Park and having dinner at the Inn at Little Washington. We don't know much about the area; any tips or other places that we shouldn't miss?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Here's a fun little story on that area of Rappahannock County.

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
A.
Jane Touzalin :

You do have dinner reservations at the inn, right? It's so popular that you can't just drop in.

One thing to keep in mind about hiking in the park: Depending on where you're driving, you might see official parking areas where you can leave your car and set off onto the trails, but they might have honor-system fees in effect that you must pay. It seems counterintuitive to prepare for a trek by taking some money, but you might need it.

For info about the entire area, check out VisitShenandoah.org.

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Travel insurance and medevacs...

Late question about travel insurance: I see the primary reason for buying travel insurance as the emergency medical evacuation coverage. If you do your research, deal with reputable suppliers and agents, and pay with credit (not debit) cards, your risks of financial loss on a vacation are minimal, and even at the very worst you only lose some money you planned to spend anyway. But a medevac from a foreign country could be a six-figure catastrophe. I have sometimes bought travel insurance and declared a low trip value (say $500 or $1000 on a several-thousand-dollar tour) just to get the medevac coverage. Could this strategy backfire? If I needed evacuation, would an insurance company be likely to say "You don't get an airlift because you didn't tell us the full cost of your flights and hotels. Too bad for you." More broadly, are there other grounds that insurers might use to avoid paying for a medevac that would appear to be covered by their policies?
A.
Christopher Elliott :

I've never come across a case of a medical evacuation claim being turned down by a travel insurance company. Normally, medical evacuations are approved (and paid for) by your insurance company in advance, so there's virtually no chance of it being rejected. I'm sure that it's technically possible -- maybe if there's some kind of fraud or if the nature of a patient's injuries or condition has been represented.

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Car vs. no car in Canadian Rockies

I am going to knock off the Canadian Rockies from my bucket list. But I'm torn: car vs. not car. I only have a few days for the Rockies, and thought about staying in Banff and working my way from there to Lake Louise and maybe Jasper. Any thoughts pro or con?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I vote for car.  With a set of wheels, you will have more freedom to explore and not be enslaved by bus or train schedules.

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Travel Stop between Maine and Arlington

Good morning! My husband and I are vacationing with my family in July in Maine. We are driving up and back, and we'll have our dog. On our way back, we're looking for a nice place to stay that is about midway or so. I'll be 33 weeks pregnant, so this pit stop is both for my sanity as it is for my husband's! Do you have any ideas? Thanks.
A.
Jane Touzalin :

How about a short detour to Newport, R.I., if you haven't been there before? The amazing mansions are worth seeing, and the city says it contains among the highest number of Colonial-era buildings still standing. Even if you don't feel like walking around much, you can just chill amid the genteel surroundings. Unfortunately you can't take the pooch into the Vanderbilts' digs, so you'd have to leave him/her in your hotel room or in doggy day care.

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Hilton Head, SC in July

Will be going there for 5 days in July with friends and family. flying into Savannah on a Sunday through Thursday at a private home on the island. Looking to know what to expect. What are the beaches like? Is there nightlife? Nice restaurants? Will I need to drive everywhere? Any activities (besides golf) or other unique sites that I should check out while there? Thanks.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

There's more to Hilton Head than golf. On our last visit, we visited the lighthouse and the Coastal Discovery Museum. The beaches are really nice. You can get around by bike, but I would rent a car if you're flying in. Don't miss dinner at Redfish. 

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
A.
Jane Touzalin :

Check out my story about "the other Hilton Head" from a couple weeks ago in which I explored the natural side of the island. The beaches can be crowded but they're generally wide and flat, with decent sand. Yes, there's some night life, which you'll be in a good  position to experience if you're staying in the Sea Pines community and can hang out around the lighthouse at the harbor. There's some near Coligny Beach, too. For restaurants, I loved Daniels and Bistro 17, also on the somewhat-less-expensive side Alligator Grille and the British Open Pub. Depending on where you're going, bikes are handier than cars there. A fun day trip from there, if you want to take one, would be to Beaufort, S.C., or to go shopping for quirky stuff in Bluffton, S.C. Have fun! I bet other chatters have favorite HH activities, too.

– June 11, 2012 12:48 PM
Q.

Virgin Islands

I'm headed down to Tortola and St. John in a couple of weeks for a honeymoon. Wondering if anyone has advice or special tips for the area.
A.
Becky Krystal :
– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Nearby beaches

I've never been to any of the nearby beaches and would like to visit one. My specs--travelling alone; not really a beach person (I do not lay out to tan), so I only want to visit for 1-2 days, and have good swimming or walking as an option; I do not have a car, so I'd prefer to take the bus or train; because I will not have a car, I'd like a place where I could find reasonably-priced accomodation within walking distance of beach, walking trails, and whatever else might be of interest to see. Is there such a place? Oh, and if you could promise me that it will be sunny and below 95 degrees, that would be great :)!

A.
Carol Sottili :

There is no train to a nearby beach. DC2NY has weekend bus service to Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. Rehoboth is nice. Lots of shopping and good restaurants. It gets crowded, especially on weekends.

– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Marriott

The Marriott deal you linked to is for 15 nights get 20,000 bonus points. Is the stay 2 nights deal already gone?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I am confused. When I use this link -- www.marriott.com/rewards/promotion.mi?promotion=SG12&stop_mobi=yes -- the deal shows up.

 

This is what it says:

Earn up to three free nights with Marriott Rewards® Summer Bonus when you stay at any participating Marriott® hotel worldwide. With the world’s most distinctive array of hotel brands, you’re always on the road to something amazing.

See Details

To earn your free nights:

Register by June 30, 2012
Stay twice at any participating hotel between June 1 and August 31, 2012
Earn one free night after every second paid stay, up to three free nights

Enjoy your free nights at any of 2,900+ category 1-4 hotels.

This summer, imagine more. You’ve earned it.

– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

national harbor

Will be there in a few weeks for 2 days while SO is at a conference. Is the National Harbor area itself enough to be entertaining, or should I plan something else? thanks!!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Here's a guide to National Harbor. Lots of great ideas in there. You could also hop on the water taxi over to Old Town Alexandria, which has plenty to see as well.

– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Cake mix

Wherever you pack it, just know that that on the x-ray machine it might look funky and might cause your baggage to be carefully screened. I was traveling with some cream of brown rice mix in my carry-on recently, and I was pulled aside. The TSA person pulled it out to take a look at it, then sent my carry-on through the x-ray machine a 2nd time. I have traveled with brownie mix to Europe in my checked bag without problems.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Thanks for the insight. Maybe the TSA agents need some training in the culinary arts, or at least in basic food literacy.

– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

NYC

Hi Travel Team, A friend and I are going to NYC for the first time this weekend. Leaving Friday morning and coming back Sun. What are some things I should not miss? We are open to anything.
A.
Becky Krystal :

I was there this past weekend and can highly recommend the High Line, Eataly and Chelsea Market. That's pretty much what I saw in a few hours!

– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
A.
Jane Touzalin :

A walk in Central Park. Also, the Museum of Modern Art or the Metropolitan Museum if you like art. See a play. Yes, sounds touristy, but those are all fun things.

– June 11, 2012 12:51 PM
Q.

Price of a one way ticket

I have purchased a handful of R/T tickets over the years to get the "better" price and then only used the ticket for the original/outbound/first leg. I've done this when I knew I'd be driving back to my original destination with a friend who already had a car. No, the airlines won't come hunt you down.
A.
Carol Sottili :

Right, but we do need to point out that most airlines do have legal prohibitions against it.

– June 11, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Montreal by train

Still trying to figure out a summer vacation. Is it reasonable for a family of 3 to take Amtrak from Richmond to NYC, lay over one night, then take them train to Montreal? I know the last leg is 11 hours. Can we get around Montreal without a car? Can we get to Quebec by train. I hate the thought of flying anywhere given the expense and hassle.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Everyone's definition of reasonable is different. I, for one, wouldn't go for 19 hours of train travel to get to Canada. You could also fly to Burlington and drive across the border. That's what I did and I would totally do it again.

You can get between Montreal and Quebec by train.

– June 11, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Pointless security hassle

Not to question your advice, but if everyone lays down on 30 minutes until approach, next time the proposal will be something even more ludicrous. If you don't question the policy, it keeps on getting worse.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

I agree, but there's a time to do it, and I think it's when you're on the ground. Or in the voting booth.

– June 11, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Vancouver water

The water is cold year round. Don't plan on swimming in the ocean. If you want to swim use the hotel pool. Even lakes are cold.
Q.

London Olympics tickets

I have the opportunity to travel to London for the Olympics. I have a place to stay, but have been unsuccessful in purchasing event tickets (all known avenues exhausted). At this point, I have resigned myself that scalping is the only way to go. Do you have any other tips or suggestions? Also planning on adding a week either prior to or after the 5 days in London. Iceland and Croatia are high on my list of possible destinations. What would you choose? Thanks for all your invaluable advice over the years!
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Have you tried either of these ticket outlets, Jet Set Sports and CoSport? According to CoSport's Web site, the company will resume individual ticket sales on Wednesday. So start your engine . . .

Both Croatia and Iceland are great add-ons. All depends on what you are in the mood for. The coastline of  Croatia will be packed with summer crowds, so that could be a determing factor. I might go for Iceland, a nice reprieve from the London masses.


– June 11, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Cleveland sightseeing

Depending on what the Cleveland visitors are interested in, I can recommend the Lakeview Cemetery (no, not joking). It's got the James A. Garfield monument (burial place of the president), and the Wade Chapel with the interior designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. I stopped when I had a couple hours free in Cleveland 2 years ago and enjoyed visiting both.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Cool idea. I may need to check that out!

– June 11, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Customs in USVI

US citizens take family vacation to Saint Thomas. Flew in via JFK, flew out via Miami. Required to go through customs on way to security gate. Just curious, why is that?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Because it is not physically part of the United States.

– June 11, 2012 12:52 PM
Q.

Stars

My two favorite star gazing experiences are: 1. When I was driving across New Zealand alone, outside any major town in South Island, my gas tank was very close to empty and I was scared to think that I'd be left alone somewhere in the middle of nowhere when I noticed the stars, so I pulled off to the side and turned off the lights and just watched the amazing stars of the southern hemisphere. I no longer cared if the car started or not (it did afterwards, and I continued on to Hammer Springs to spend the night and fill the tank the following day as everything in town was closed after 7pm!) 2. After watching the sunset, we left Canyonlands and started driving to Moab for the night. Before we got to Moab I noticed the gorgeous sky covered with stars, so my friend who was driving pulled off the road and into the field so we could be away from traffic, and we took out a bottle of wine which was given to me as a gift at the beginning of my trip and enjoyed it in coffee cups on the hood of the rental car!!
Q.

Canadian Rockies

Car. Not a question, and I say this as a public transit afficianado.
Q.

"I'm terrified of traveling and having to sleep on floors"

Another "mature" traveler weighing in here, with an opposing view: Hard beds are painful to sleep on, and make me feel as though I were bruised all over by morning. Yet that seems to be all that I ever find in hotels.
A.
Becky Krystal :

Yeah, I tend to fall in the camp of hard beds are worse than soft beds.

– June 11, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

RE: 30 Minute Rule

They know it was rescinded - but flight attendants use it to make their lives easier. They figure most people don't know any better.
A.
Christopher Elliott :

Oh, that's interesting. 

– June 11, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

Birthday Day Trip

Are there any nice beaches close enough to DC that are worth making a day trip? I'm taking the day off for my birthday next week and thought if the weather is pleasant that would be a nice way to spend it. Looking for some summer beach fun for the day.
A.
Carol Sottili :

The closest ocean beaches to D.C. (Rehoboth Beach in Delaware and Ocean City, Md.) are nearly three hours each way, without traffic. It's doable for a day trip, especially if you go on a weekday when traffic is lighter. The beaches are nice anywhere between Rehoboth and Assateague Island (south of OC). They may be a bit crowded, but it's not a mob scene on weekdays in June. 

– June 11, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

Rental Car in Europe

In the Sun. Post, Ms. Sachs said her home insurance covered goods stolen from her rental car in St. Martin. My State Farm agent said that neither my home owner or my auto insurance policies cover such a loss outside the U.S. What insurance company or policy does Ms. Sachs have?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I believe I have Nationwide. I submitted the police reports and an estimate worth of my belongings (I lost everything: computer, iPod, clothing, car key). The insurance company reimbursed me for about $2,500.

– June 11, 2012 12:54 PM
Q.

60th birthday

My friend & I (both females) are celebrating our 60th birthdays in October (the 10th & 13th) and want to take a trip - some relaxation spa stuff and some adventure. We are both in good shape healthwise, can spend approximately 10 days and $4000.00 (each). I live near Washington DC and she lives in Denver. Warmer weather would be our choice. Any ideas? Thanks so much!!!!
A.
Becky Krystal :

Maybe something in Arizona? Hit up adventure in and around the Grand Canyon, spa away in Sedona.

– June 11, 2012 12:55 PM
Q.

Maine Suggestions?

My mother and I are planning on spending 5 or 6 days in Maine in August. We've never been. We'd like to stay somewhere nice (2 or 3 nights at 2 different places is fine). We'd like to do some sightseeing, but relaxing is important too. Any suggestions for places to stay, sights to see? Thanks!
A.
Becky Krystal :

I'm thinking a good combo would be Portland and then somehwere around Bar Harbor/Acadia National Park. Chatters?

– June 11, 2012 12:55 PM
Q.

Car vs. no car in Canadian Rockies

You need a car. Pretty hard to get around without one.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks!

– June 11, 2012 12:56 PM
Q.

flights to CA

I have been following airfare to LA from DC since last July, and the fares were consistently over $400. However, I had an alert for that trip, and the fares dropped briefly to $309 in early May (out of DCA!) and I was able to snag 4. The prices went up immediately, and I haven't seen them that low again. The lesson is to closely monitor the flights, and if they dip below $350, don't hesitate!
A.
Carol Sottili :

Good advice.

– June 11, 2012 12:56 PM
Q.

Vienna between Christmas and New Year's

Most businesses will close for Christmas and the day after. Restaurants will be closed, except for hotels. No movies, shopping, museums, etc. But unlike many places in Europe the celebration is very welcoming to travelers. If you're there for the holiday, go to midnight mass at St. Stephen's, and just walk around to soak it all in. Alternatively, plan to arrive Dec. 26, as everything opens again the day after.
Q.

Oregon Wineries

We're off to Oregon for a family reunion in July, and wanted to stop at a couple of local wineries while we're there. Any suggestions for ones to try as well as any particulary bed and breakfast/hotels in the area?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Oregon has a web of wine trails. I suggest looking at the different routes listed here. All are in Willamette Valley.

Yamhill County has lots of inns and estates in or around wineries. Here is a list. For ones in Willamette Valley, see here.

 

– June 11, 2012 12:56 PM
Q.

Train to Saratoga

We did just this for our honeymoon 15 years ago. A great destination, and a lovely train ride after NY. I would suggest doing as we did, and taking an earlier train from DC to NY and staying in NY overnight.
Q.

question about GAP trail

Good afternoon! I've been trying to find the answer to this and cannot, and I know you all did a splendid article on this a few months back. Does the GAP trail have water pumps every ~5 miles like the C&O Canal does, or do we need to carry all the water we'll need between meals?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Don't know the answer to this, but I would check out the trail site and call the number listed there.

– June 11, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

penn station

there will be enough to keep you occupied, probably - I've hung out at penn station too much over the years (trains back to where I was goign to LI were an hour apart, except for 1 hour where the train didn't exist). You can get something to eat, there won't be too many people there, and it's perfectly safe. don't worry about it at all.
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Thanks for the supportive words.

– June 11, 2012 12:58 PM
Q.

Tours - Walking or Hiking - What's the Difference

I'm thinking about taking an escorted tour, think Smithsonian or Nat Geo. Both say there's a moderate amount of walking required. But what does that mean? One person's two mile walk might be another's hike. I'm fit and a couple of flattish miles are fine. Uneven surfaces or tons of stairs are not. The agents aren't helpful. Are there ways to tell if it's a walk or a hike?
A.
Becky Krystal :

Hard to say if the agents aren't helpful. And I'm not sure we can parse the language for you! See if you can get specifics on where the walks go. That might provide insight. Maybe there are message boards on the trip sites where you can pose the question.

– June 11, 2012 12:59 PM
Q.

Finding family in Sicily

Hi -- We are making a trip to Sicily in July and after researching our family tree on Ancestry.com, I am still finding it hard to find relatives in the town our family hailed from. Can travelers suggest places that help find Italian relatives? Or, we would be happy to also have your tips on traveling in Sicily. Thanks!
A.
Carol Sottili :

I did a roots tour of Sicily with my mom a few years back. We hired a private guide who took us to my grandparents' village and to the village of my husband's grandparents. It was fascinating  -- they pulled down these dusty, ancient books that held my grandfather's birth and marriage certificates. And a woman who worked at the town hall came out to tell me that she had the same surname -- we couldn't figure out if we were related, but it was very fun. Our guide is no longer in business, but I can recommend another guide. Just can't put my finger on his name right now. Send me an email at washpostdeals@gmail.com, and I'll find it.

– June 11, 2012 1:00 PM
Q.

hotel tipping

It's late so maybe I'll repost this next week. When I stay in a hotel for multiple days I generally leave a tip for the maids when I check out. Is this ok? Or should a tip be left every day?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

Some experts  say that you should leave a tip a day, because you might have different housekeepers during your stay, so you want to be sure that the individual who did the work receives the tip. However, I personally prefer to leave the tip at the end of the stay, because then I have a better idea of the overall service.

Personally, I think you are okay doing it either way. Or you could always leave the tip with the housekeeping manager and ask him/her to be sure that the housekeepers who cleaned your room receive the correct amount of money.

– June 11, 2012 1:00 PM
Q.

NYC first-timers

Stay away from the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. They cost $50 for only 20 minutes and you need to tip the driver, too. If you want a tour, get a pedicab. They are much cheaper and good fun.
A.
Jane Touzalin :

A walk is nice, too ....

– June 11, 2012 1:00 PM
Q.

Eclipse

I had travelled to see the eclipse at the grand canyon. I got to talking to someone who is a regular eclipse traveler and he shared a story of on a recent trip where he took an eclipse cruise. He set up a wall with his photography equipment so people don't run into him. That didn't stop one women who hit his equipment during the eclipse.
Q.

olympics

Yes it was a while ago in atlanta, but still... i got scalped tickets WAY below the cost on the day of the event, or the day before. it was NOT the boon to anyone everything thought it would be. Don't worry too much about tickets unless there is a SPECIFIC event you want. it is SO MUCH fun to go to those obscure events, with countries you don't know much about competing. REALLY! I saw brazil and those fans are awesome. It will be so much fun...have a great time!
Q.

russian visa application

We have traveled around the world quite a bit and I have never encountered such an intrusive and irritating visa applicationn as this Russian app. What is their reason for this monstrosity?
A.
Andrea Sachs :

I have heard horror stories about this application.  It's bureaucraxy at its finest and more frustrating. Just stay calm and clear a chunk of time on your calendar.

– June 11, 2012 1:04 PM
Q.

Becky Krystal :

What a great hour -- thanks for stopping by. Loved your stargazing stories, so it's hard to choose a winner. While I don't condone illegal trespassing, I was tickled by the story of the students who went stargazing in the Vermont pasture. Send your name and address to travel@washpost.com so we can get you your prize.

Come back next week!

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