Talk about Travel

Nov 21, 2011

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. This week we search for crafts in Guatemala and sip cider in the Hudson Valley and prepare for Thanksgiving travel.

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's travel chat! Hope you enjoyed Bill Brubaker's piece on folk-art collecting in Guatemala, and Shelby Vittek's ode to her 38 souvenir spoons, among the other stories we had for you in this week's Travel section. 

We know you've got holiday travel on your mind, and are happy to answer any and all questions related to that and other things. But for our little chat prize effort, here's your challenge: Tell us the most amusing/fascinating/moving tale you can muster about something you bought on a trip and brought back home -- whether it be art, music, food or tchotchke -- and why it meant something to you (or didn't). Our favorite will win a prize.

OK, let's do this. this a good idea or a complete nightmare?! My partner and I are thinking of going on a short vacation to New Orleans for New Years. Are the crowds going to be crazy like NYC? Are the prices higher because of the holiday? Give me a little perspective please.

I love the idea. NOTHING is as crazy as Times Square, but it'll be a big party, that's for sure. I've actually done it -- a total scene, but not quite as crowded as Mardis Gras or Jazz Fest, if that gives you any idea. As for prices, it's certainly usually pricey to fly that weekend, yes -- but you should be able to get a hotel if you book soon. My favorite, Villa Convento, looks like it's booked up for that Saturday night but has room on Friday and Sunday, for instance -- at a decent price. On the other hand, a new place I've had my eye on to try, Hotel Le Marais, is much more expensive that weekend than I saw quoted in Budget Travel. 

First time in forever that we will not be spending Christmas at a family member's house and I'm looking for someplace to spend Christmas weekend. I have LOTS of conditions :) but I'm thinking if any group of people can suggest the perfect place, it's you or your forum participants. So here goes: no more than 5 hour drive from Philadelphia we'd like someplace where it feels very welcoming and festive, so either a resort or country lodge that has common area that would be decorated and welcoming or maybe a town that has lots of spaces where people will be gathering....just don't want to feel too 'on our own' have already ruled out Mohonk Mountain House and Skytop - they just seemed a shade too expensive and stuffy for us. Also not DC - I know it's absolutely beautiful at Christmas but that's where our family is. Thanks in advance for any ideas!

Apparently Stockbridge, Mass., and the Red Lion Inn do it up for Christmas.

Chatters, share your thoughts!

I am planning on taking my family of 5 to Europe next summer. With all of the financial issues in several of the countries, what should I be concerned about as I plan the trip? We haven't picked the location and may possibly try and book a cruise.

I covered this issue in a previous Navigator column about the risks of travel to Europe. Of course, no one knows what will happen in 2012, but I'd be willing to bet that this year's hotspots (Spain, Italy, Greece) could be trouble again next summer. And I would add that, having been to Spain and Italy this summer, I would not hesitate to plan another trip there in 2012.

Dr. Gridlock, We are going to Baltimore for Thanksgiving and would like to go for dinner on Wednesday night, if possible. If we leave Silver Spring around 5 PM, do you think that we can get to Baltimore (Pikesville, just northwest of the city) by 7 PM? We usually take 29 to 70 to 695 to avoid traffic when we visit throughout the year. Thanks!

One of the most frustrating aspects of the continuing Metro escalator saga is when you find that one of several escalators is not working, and all of the others are going the wrong way. I entered Metro Center at 11th and G around 6:30 Friday evening, and one escalator was turned off and the other two were moving UP (not the direction most people would be traveling in the evening rush hour). I and all other riders encounter this frequently all over town. How hard would it be to keep one moving in each direction? I have given up complaining to the station attendants when I encounter this; they invariably act indignant that I would presume to speak to them. Why can't Metro tell attendants to keep escalators running in both directions? Why aren't attendants required to wear badges with their names or a reference number in big type? Can Metro monitor the escalators from headquarters electronically, by cameras or in some other way? And has Metro ever thought of establishing a hotline (1-800-BAD-RAIL?) that would allow customers to report problems in real time?

Sigh. Wrong chat. Go to Dr. Gridlock, please.

(posting early due to meeting) LOOVE these chats! Grateful for such knowledge! How bad do you think the traffic by the bridge will be around 11am Wednesday? Boyfriend insists on driving that route....(so I'm figuring how many books to bring LOL)

Methinks you want Dr. Gridlock? He's chatting right now, too.

Good afternoon! I will be in Italy from 3-18 January 2012. What suggestions do you have for the "must-see" sites?

That's quite a general question! Can you narrow it down a little bit by at least telling us where in Italy you'll be?

I have a group of girl friends (10 of us) and we want to do an all inclusive trip next year: what places should we look at? I like Sandals concept with no kids, but not the only couples part, are their similar places for a group of 30-something women? Thanks.

Sandals would not be my first choice for a group of single friends. There are plenty of other all-inclusive resorts that are more single-friendly. Take a look at Breezes, Club Med, Secrets and Iberostar.  

I'm off tomorrow to Costa Rica for 10 days, my first trip there. Any suggestions for unusual local handicrafts I should look for to buy for holiday gifts? I'll be mostly in the Cloud Forest and in the national parks along the Pacific coast.

Bill Brubaker says this:

Sounds like a great trip!  I'd look for gifts made from Cosa Rica's beautiful woods.  Maybe some boxes or spoons. Costa Rica has a huge variety of woods and the craftmanship can be really fine.  For anyone traveling near San Jose, the capital, head to Sarchi, a town famous for its finely painted ox carts, which are made to sell to the art/tourist market. They can be disassembled for easy packing. Buen viaje!

Late question about the seven-hour Jet Blue strandings in Hartford, and similar events: There might be good reasons that the planes couldn't return to the gates (although it's hard for me to imagine what they might be). But was it really impossible to get some water and food to the stranded planes, and maybe service the toilets? If the planes were stationary and nobody's taking off, why couldn't trucks get to them?

As I wrote in the Navigator column about the tarmac strandings, what happened was truly horrible. I would have hated to be stuck on those planes. But the planes were stuck at the wrong airport in the middle of a stowstorm, a power outage, they had insufficient staff to accommodate the needs of the planes -- in other words, a lot of things went wrong to create these awful delays. Simply fining the airline is no answer, nor would it have brought the planes back to the terminal any faster, unfortunately.

We want to meet friends from near Philadelphia somewhere between here and there for the weekend of Dec. 3 (6 fifty-somethings will meet Saturday around noon, stay overnight, head home Sunday afternoon). Had a perfect idea to base the trip around touring the Herr's chip factory in Nottingham, PA, but they are closed on Saturday. Funky is good - any thoughts?

How about a pretzel tour?

Hey, I am planning to splurge on a business class ticket to Australia next year. All of the prices are roughly the same (i.e. astronomical), so I'd like any advice on which carries have the best business class experience. Thanks!

We usually fly economy, so we'll ask chatters for firsthand accounts. A quick look at customer reviews on Skytrax, an airline review site, indicates that Air New Zealand is a favorite for business-class travelers. 

but I bought my Thanksgiving ticket in July so I decided to skip the driving and parking involved in BWI or Dulles. The prices were all about the same without a connection that sounded horrific - the first leg's on-time rate was listed as 40% and that isn't for the worst travel day of the year. But I can't for the life of me remember if the security lines are worse/better/about the same at National going by US Air.. Will 2 hours be enough time to get through everything if I print out my boarding pass and only have carry ons? And will Metro take longer than it normally does on Wednesday? My flight is at 3:10. Thanks.

I think 2 hours is plenty, yes. (Then again, I am famous for cutting things close.) DCA security lines are usually not bad, although the Wednesday and Sunday around Thanksgiving are always particularly crowded. But 2 hours is lots of time in that little airport.

Hi! Thanks for the chat, I read every week! I booked a ticket home from Vienna (VIE) just in time for Christmas (to PHL) to see family about a month ago. Because of unfortunate work problems, I now have a lot more free time in December, so I decided it was worth the $200 something change fee to head over two weeks early. BA has an online portal that you're heavily encouraged to use to change things about your tix ("Manage my booking"), to the extent that if you call customer service you get charged a fee. So, I tried to change my ticket date online, which was absolutely fine until it got to the payscreen, where it said that there was a problem with my bank and I needed to contact them before they could finalise the process. I've had problems like that in the past with airline tix (even though this was just the change fee), so I called them up. They couldn't find any problems, so they connected me to Verify by Visa, who also couldn't find any problems. Long story short, I was on the phone for over an hour with different people trying to work it out (over Skype, which is always a joy with customer service people, as they always want to try to call you back). I took the time because this is not a totally unusual bank-related situation for me, as I live overseas and they're always cutting off my card or something because I "randomly" make a purchase in Austria or something, even though I've registered with them. Finally, we gave up and I called to BA to figure out what was going on. They said, "Oh, actually, it's nothing to do with your bank. The computer system can't process changes because it doesn't know how to calculate the fuel price change. You have to do that over the phone with us." I was incandescent. If that is the problem with their website, then they should say so, rather than having a banking-related error message (which it VERY CLEARLY WAS). They didn't apologise at all, and I had to ask to talk to a manager to get the to waive the stupid customer service fee. Additionally, I had to pay the fuel surcharge of over $50 (I don't remember exactly how much it was), which I wouldn't have been so annoyed by, except that I essentially had already finished the transaction before they brought it up, so it felt like a bait and switch. I wrote a complaint email to BA over a week ago and haven't heard anything back. I'm in their FF program (which they keep changing around) and switched to them fairly recently because I used to fly AirFrance but got sick of flying through CGD and missing connections. I am really deeply annoyed over this and would like to hear something back from them (preferably an apology). If they're not responding to their set-up email system, how do I contact them? Thanks for your help! This is really detracting from my looking forward to being home for a bit.

That's absolutely ridiculous. You should contact BA's customer service through its site first, and if it doesn't respond, try one of these British Airways executive contacts. And if that doesn't work, try me. I'll see if I can get a better answer. Here's my email address.

good afternoon all, i am looking to go to barcelona over the holidays staying there for new years eve. i am looking for a hotel near the Passeig de Gracia (if that is a good neighborhood to stay in) or other suggestions as well as what i can do new years eve! thanks!!

I've read good things about Hotel 987, which wasn't open when I was in Barcelona too many years ago. I stayed in the Claris Hotel, which was swank and fab and mod and cool, but I was on an expense account at the time. It's in the Passeig de Gracia hood, as is another place I stayed: Hotel Condes de Barcelona, also nice but pricey. Blake Gopnik, former Postie, raved about the design of Casa Camper.

As for what to do on NYE, I was there then, and what I learned is this: The streets will seem oddly empty for most of the evening, because Catalans tend to spend it with their families -- but then they bound onto the streets right after midnight. (At the stroke of midnight, they pop grapes as the clock strikes.) It gets so festive in the streets that I say go for a quiet, late dinner, then just be out on La Rambla and get carried away on the energy of the crowd.

Hi, we have a flight at 11 am on Wednesday morning out of National. Do you think there will still be spaces available in the long-term lot then? (i.e, the lot that requires a shuttle) Thanks!

Anyone have experience parking at National at that time? They also have a real-time availability tool, which you should check before you leave.

Hi Travel Crew! I am taking a trip to Costa Rica and will be connecting through Houston on my way home. Will I go through customs in Houston before I catch my flight from Houston to DC?

Yes you will. So I hope you have plenty of time to make your connection. That said, last time I went through customs in Houston (on way back from Costa Rica), it went smoothly. Coming through Charlotte a couple of months ago was another story. 

We're driving to The Homestead on Wednesday, returning Saturday with our kids, 3 and 5 yrs old. This is our first "road trip" with them. What are some good places to stop along the way? Any recommendations for lunch, hopefully kid-friendly but one step up from fast food? And any insider tips for The Homestead? It will be our first visit. Thank You!

I think Harrisonburg might be a nice stop (as would any of the other towns along I-81/U.S. 11 -- look for orchards). Perhaps have lunch at the Little Grill, which I've heard good things about. Grab ice cream at Kline's Dairy Bar. Let the kids stretch their legs at JMU's arboretum. There's also a children's museum. Insider tips for the Homestead? This story from Andrea might provide insight.

Chris - nice write up in Sunday's Travel on the tarmac delays and I'll agree with your argument that it's a "shortsighted fascination" in relation the bigger travel picture. So - what are your "truly important issues" that the column only alludes to?

Thanks. I've actually written about the important issues in a previous Navigator column. Airfare transparency, fees, and federal preemption -- just to name a few issues -- affect far more passengers than tarmac delays. I should also say that this in no way should diminish the unpleasantness of being left in a parked plane for hours. It's truly horrible, as I note -- but fortunately, exceedingly rare.

It may be a few minutes longer than the 5-hour drive requirement, but what about The Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, VA? If I remember correctly, they really make Christmas special!

I really like this idea. Here's info on the holidays there. The traveler could also consider staying in one of Colonial Williamsburg's historic buildings. I did that, and it is really cool.

Hi! We were originally planning on leaving for the outer banks on Wednesday night, but we're now planning on leaving Tuesday evening to avoid traffic. Will we still run in to back-ups if we are leaving around 7pm Tuesday?

Is there ever a time when you can drive south on I-95 and not hit traffic? AAA predicts the heaviest Thanksgiving travel in four years, with just under a million Washington region residents hitting the road. The busiest day is typically Wednesday, so Tuesday may be a bit better. 7 p.m., however, may be a little early, as rush hour traffic is still winding down. 

Doesn't Cape May do itself up for the holiday? Surely there's a B&B that would be in the OP's price range and vibe.

Another nice suggestion.

A few weeks ago I had written in to see if I could avoid change fees on AirTran due to my father suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage while I was in town for a job interview. Chris listed some numbers of the Corporate Office and I called immediately. The first person I spoke with in the Customer Service Department said she would waive the fee for me but since I was not sure at that time when I would be returning home, she would note it in the reservation but I had to call the main AirTran number by one hour prior to the original flight to reschedule. When I called AirTran on that day, the woman told me the change fee was waived but I would need to pay $15 fee for making the change on the phone. I explained the situation and told her I saw the flight I wanted on their website and knew I had to pay the difference in price, but due to the waived fee, I HAD to make it on the phone. She wouldn't budge. Instead of booking through her, I called Corporate's Customer Service again. This time, I spoke with another woman who, because I am an A+ member, just put the credit on my frequent flyer account and told me I could use it anytime within a year when I booked online. Dad is doing better and is back home and, after feeling more positive about the neurosurgeon's prognosis, I returned to Florida. I just want to thank the gurus & chatsters for their help and support. It was nice having one less thing to worry about at a very stressful time.

You're welcome! :-)

Hello, A couple of weeks ago I wrote in asking about a day trip from Paris to tour the wine country, but I didn't get many responses. Maybe this is too much travel for some people, but my husband and I ended up taking the high speed train to Dijon, which took about 1 1/2 hours each way (normal trains take about 3 1/2 hours). We booked a 4 hour wine tasting tour of the Burgundy region with the company "Authentica Tours" and really enjoyed ourselves. It was nice to get out of Paris for a day and well worth the price for the high speed train tickets! The museum and market at Dijon were also highlights. Plus, we were able to drink a bottle of Burgundy on the train back to Paris.

Sounds delightful -- thanks for the report.

My wife and I plan to spend ten days or so in Mexico City next March or April. Are there interesting day trips we should consider? We're up for almost anything that isn't also popular with drug cartel members. Bob Wilson Saxtons River, VT

Of course you must see Teotihuacan, the ancient Aztec complex, about 30 miles north of Mexico City. It's undoubtedly the most popular day trip from the capital, and its spectacular and eerie. Not far away is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also worth a pilgrimage.

Beautiful Cuernavaca, the City of Eternal Spring, is only a little over 50 miles away. If you want to go a bit farther afield, Taxco, the so-called silver city, is about 100 miles to the southwest, or there's the colonial city of Tlaxcala, with some beautiful old colonial buildings, about 75 miles to the east. And Cholula, about 80 miles away, is known for its many churches. I believe most of these places would be perfectly safe for tourists. But watch for our upcoming story deconstructing what's safe and what isn't for tourists in Mexico.

Coming back from Curacao on Saturday - first the plane was delayed because "they were cleaning the plane". Then after extended boarding delays because of hand searching luggage to "find liquids" on the jetway, after sitting further at the gate, the pilot announced that 'someone' had not filed a flight plan so they couldn't take off. The the pilot or other flight staff couldn't decide just when we'd land in Miami. It varied from 5 pm to 7 pm, and would have been funny if it had been on SNL, not an aircraft. All of these delays added up to a frenzied jog thru Miami international airport to get the connecting flight, which we made by mere minutes, out of breath and perplexed about the professionalism of American Airlines. Note to self: never take a connecting flight with less than 2+ hours when flying American!

I wish I could tell you this was an American Airlines problem, but the truth is, this could have happened with any airline. 

the confusion is that if I recall correctly when you used to do your chat at 2pm on days like today and around the holidays with many traveling you would have DR Gridlock sit in on your chat. Now with you moving up the time your chats are at the same time.

Our chats have been at noon for a long while now, but yes, today Dr. Gridlock is doing his at the same time. 

I'll be spending two days solo in Amsterdam right after New Years Eve. Any recommendations on where to stay and eat? I'm an adventurous eater and will have just spent over a week in the Dutch countryside with in-laws, so the more exotic, the better! And recommendations on non-hostel options would be appreciated. I will have revisited Anne Frank House with young relatives earlier in the holiday, and am planning on spending some of my daylight at the Rijksmuseum. I am 35 and female and not interested in cannabis or the red light district, so other entertainment options would be most welcome!

I spent most of my time in Friesland. When I was in Amsterdam, however, I have to admit that I was a total tourist. I biked around the canals, lazed in cafes and poked around the Red Light District.

I found a great blog, Dutch Grub, that covers Amsterdam restaurants; maybe you can find a few spots that  match your tastes. And save room for rijsttafel, the Indonesian feast.

For stylish budget hotels without the hostel crowd, check out P. C. Hooft,  Wynnobel or Van Ostade Bike Hotel (great if you travel by two wheels).

Also, if the chatters have any recommendations, please speak up.

These are very nice, but very pricey. I have what might seem like a minor beef, but when you check in you are charged a $15/day mandatory "activities fee," which entitles you to use the health club, gain access to Wifi, and various other "activities," none of which are of interest to me (I am a disabled non-techie). SoI wind up spending $15/day for my daily newspaper. My question: Why not just add $15 to the cost of the room? I was not the only person who, while checking in, was dismayed to learn of this additional charge.

I hate the nickel-and-dime approach some hotels use. As far as I'm concerned, this is NOT the type of thing that should be mandatory, for many reasons, but especially because some people don't want to -- or cannot -- take advantage of them. I think because you are disabled, you have a very strong claim to getting them to nix this fee. And I agree with you -- if it's mandatory, they should just work it into their pricing structure and mention that all those things are included. Then nobody is upset.

If you are getting there via metro I always would buffer my schedule because metro is notoriously off schedule. Also remember you have to look at the schedule so you leave your home thinking it will be 2 hrs but you miss this connection and that connect delaying you by 30 minutes.

When going through airport security, I know laptops need to be taken out of any bags and placed separately for the X-ray machine, while phones, mp3 players, etc do not. What about mid-sized electronic items, such as Kindles and iPads? Thanks!

Nope, according to the TSA blog, they don't have to be taken out. Although notice the caveat that agents might ask for secondary screening if they consider it an "anomaly." Sigh.

What if I want to take public transportation or drive to Italy?

It's a fabulous drive. A little wet, but...

My husband and I are renting a condo in Tamarindo for a week in January. This will be our third trip to the country. On our first trip we stayed at th north end of Guanacaste and went to Arenal, did a rainforest hike, and spent a day at Witche's Rock. The second visit was slpoit between the San Jose area and Jaco Beach and included a fun zipline adventure and an overnight at Manuel Antonio Park. Can you (or readers) recommend some sights we may have missed? We're adventurous travelers and will rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

I'd take a drive to Marino las Baulas National Park, which is known for being a nesting site for leatherback turtles. And I'd take a canopy tour. Several companies offer these tours in natural areas just east of Tamarindo, including Pura Adventura

I seem to pick up somethng lobster-related every time I go to Maine and up into Atlantic Canada. This time it was a lobster keychain-- which I have my work keys on at my job in Europe. My first lobster item was a sleepshirt with a HUGE lobster on the front and back. It used to freak out my college roommate throughout all the years we roomed together and she was extremely happy to hear when it finally shredded in the wash and had to be tossed. I still miss that shirt and keep my eye out for one at least similar to it on each Northeast trip but alas none ever measure up.

Love it. Clearly you need to step things up next Halloween.

We are not all single, just not taking SOs along. Do the suggestions still stand? Thanks.

Yes, suggestions still stand.  Notice I did not recommend Hedonism for your group. 

When my grandparents were starting to fail, my father started making fairly regular trips to visit and check on them in Kentucky. On one of these trips, Nana gave my father some gifts for me since she knew I was a rock and mineral collector. My father was going through the airport with his briefcase when all of a sudden the xray machine started going berserk and an alarm was hit and about a dozen people jumped on his briefcase as it came out of the machine. They asked who's bag it was and dad told them it was his, upon which he was quick marched to a small room where they asked him to very carefully open the bag. My father had no idea what was going on, but he opened the bag and displayed the contents-a large hematite rock about 5 X 11 inches in size and a large amathyst geode. They asked him a few questions and let him go once they realized that there was no bomb in the briefcase - just a dad bearing gifts to his daughter. I still have those two rocks displayed prominently in my living room.

Fantastic. Thanks.

About 35 years ago, I traveled with my parents & sister to a friend's wedding in her home of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. As the airlines were still regulated when we went (that changed while we were gone... another story, completely!), we made stops in San Juan, Bogota, and Cartegena for a few days each for no additional air fare. In Rio, we were escorted by our friends to see all the non-tourist places as well as the usual. They took us to the Hippie Fair, which was a huge open-air flea market type venue. While there, I purchased a beautiful leather hat that I wore home (Customs just smashed it on my head to be sure I wasn't hiding anything) and a wonderful woven wall hanging that I still have in my kitchen. But my favorite story of all was when Mom made a jewelry purchase on a busy street corner from a vendor. She spoke no Portuguese but I tried to haggle for her in Spanish. The gentleman gave her a great price, ultimately (about half what he originally quoted), and Mom was so excited she gestured with the a-ok sign of thumb to forefinger. Problem is, in Brazil, that is pretty much an obscene gesture (they use the thumbs up)... suddenly, the busy street corner became silent and all the jaws of the business men awaiting buses just dropped! In my poor Spanish, I was trying to explain (without making the sign again) that in the US, that is a GOOD sign! All in all, many fond memories, and some great souvenirs from all the countries we visited!

Ah, what they must have thought of your poor, innocent mom! Good story.

Gurus, heading to Budapest for 3 days. Any highlights that are not to be missed? Off the beaten path things to see? Restaurant recommendations? Thanks!

Haven't been to Budapest in a while, but some things stay the same, don't they? You'll love this gorgeous city on the Danube. You must see the Castle Quarter and the fashionable Andrassy Avenue, as well as monumental Heroes' Square and the underground, the second-oldest subway in the world. Also the Parliament building. These are not off the beaten path, but must-sees nonetheless. Walk around and enjoy the Art Nouveau architecture; walk across one of the bridges and ogle the Danube. Sit around in a coffeehouse or two -- Cafe Gerbeaud is one of the most famous traditional coffeehouses in Europe. The Matyas Pince or Matthias Cellar restaurant is a famous traditional Hungarian restaurant.

Chatters, your suggestions for more?

As we enter the holiday season, can I put out a plea to Metro (and the travel staff, if you have any influence over Metro) to make sure they increase service on the airport buses (5a, 30B) adequately? In recent years, I have arrived for the B30 bus a day or two before Christmas (i.e., when everyone KNOWS there will be lots of travellers) to find LONG lines for the bus. I have not made the bus I planned for because of inadequate service. I build enough time in my transportation plan to account for this, but it would really be nice if Metro provided enough service. I'd even be fine with them adding a 'additional service fee' to the fare. It would be nice if the area airports also requested that Metro increase the amount of service. I know Metro always says they have buses waiting if needed. But somehow the lines stay long and the missed buses add up.


One thing to check is whether the plane is two-cabin (so biz is the highest class, as in Continental's "Business-First') or a three-cabin (so biz class is a "middle" class, as with United's 777s). The airline's Web site should have seat maps, as will sites such as Seat Guru. Not the only consideration, but one to look into. Sites such as have stories from travelers, though if you're interested in business class you need to weed through the reviews.

I think most, if not all, airlines that fly the Australia route have four tiers - economy, premium economy, business and first. I often splurge by buying premium economy seats when flying long distances. They're not anywhere near as expensive as business-class, and they give me just enough extra room and services to make the journey bearable. 

New wife and I are headed to Madrid for 5 days in a few weeks for a mini-honeymoon. Any recommendations on food or what to see besides the big items?

I have three food ideas for you: Museo del Jamon for that incomparable ham; Asador Real for roasted meats; and La Broche for modernist cooking.

Hi, I have a comment about tarmac delays. I love logistics. It's what I do for a living, and I can't understand why even in a blizzard, the airlines and the airport cannot find a way to get the passengers off of the planes. Seriously. Assuming the planes were too far away from the terminal to allow passengers to walk off, there had to be at least one bus and at least one bus driver at the airport who could have gone and picked up passengers, 20 or so at a time, until the plane was empty. I realize I'm oversimplifying this a bit, but the concept that there is just no way to get the passengers off the plane just means that people weren't trying hard enough. I also wonder why passengers don't call the media when this happening. I'm sure that any number of news outlets in the 24 hour news cycle would love to report the breaking news that hundreds of people are being held against their will on an airline. I bet that if the news takes over DURING a delay instead of after, the airlines and airports would figure out some way to get the planes unloaded. End of rant, now. :)

Thanks for your comment. Actually, passengers did make calls to the media -- one, if I recall, phoned in to a South Florida TV station to specifically say this wasn't the airline's fault.

Generally, we have found that United has the cheapest business class tickets, but the lowest I have ever seen has been $5600 for travel in their winter. Usually it is around $7000. Other carriers, such as Qantas, are almost always over $10,000 a seat. VAustralia has a premium economy that gets good reviews, if you can't get a good rate on United. You can also amass some miles -- 60,000 miles for a roundtrip upgrade and book 360 days in advance, and pay the economy rate on United. Good luck.

Thanks for the ideas.

On a trip to Cancun, we took a side trip to Isla Mujeres. After touring the island, we spent time at a sea side bar with swings, drinking margaritas until it was time to sprint drunkenly back to the ferry. Made one stop in an outdoor market -- to buy a swing made of blue rope and a wooden bar to hold it together. That was when you could carry such things back in an airplane. Still have it, still have not been able to hang it up to use it, or give it away. It sits in a corner, my margarita chair.

Perfect for wasting away. Have you found your lost shaker of salt yet?

I really enjoyed Rembrandt's house and the Van Gogh Museum.

My husband and I spent several days in Amsterdam in September. We did the usual tourist things in the city, but also took two side trips, one to Delft (for the day) and one to Haarlem (just an afternoon). Both were very interesting to walk around - canals, old churches, other interesting buildings and museums - and both were easy to get to via short train trips from Amsterdam.

The souvenir that most touches me is a Milwaukee Brewers rally towel. I had won a trip to Milwaulkee to see a baseball game, Now my goal is to see a game at all MLB stadiums and being that I live in DC and am a Yankees fan, Milwaukee was not high on the list so this seemed perfect, go on somone elses dime. It was late September of 2009 and the Brewers were still in the hunt for the Wild Card. Our seats were amazing, 10 rows behind home plate. People were so nice, the guy in the car ahead of us paid our parking, and the ones next to us bought us drinks. It was the ninth inning with 3 on and 2 out, Brewers poster boy Ryan Braun came to the plate and smacked a walk-off grand slam. The Brewers fans went ballistic. I couldn't help but get into the cheering and waving of the rally towels with them. I may never see a walk-off grand slam live again, and that towel reminds me of the amazing feeling I got when it happened, in a stadium I didn't know, in a town that at first seemed unappealing (but turns out is pretty awesome), and for a team that I never liked but now cheer for. I hold the towel and it reminds me of why I truly love baseball.


What would happen if an enterprising passenger sitting in an exit row in the middle of the plane (i.e., no flight attendant nearby) were to pop the emergency exit, and slide down the chute to the tarmac, instead of spending 7+ hours on the plane with no water? "They" wouldn't make the passengers get back on the plane?

I'm sure many of the passengers who were waiting wanted to try that.

As bad as airline reservation systems may be (I had two instances yesterday where the agent I spoke with by phone couldn't get the same prices I couuld get on the airline's Web site, but some prices she could get and I couldn't--- I gave up), my least favorite aspect is the voice message systems, which may not only not recognize what you say, but which are designed to discourage you from asking for an agent ("I think you asked for an agent, but if you answer just a few more questions first . . ."). More than once I've ended up screaming "I want to talk with an agent!!!" into the phone. My wife looks at me like she think I'm crazy (and she could be right by that point).

I read an article about how the voice technology "reads" your tone. So if you sound sweet and patient, it will avoid handing you over to the operator and continue to pepper you with questions. So now I do the same thing: I adopt a harsh tone and demand an operator. Then, with the live person, I return to my sweet voice. We gotta do what we gotta do.

I've (almost) always been very frugal about buying trip souvenirs. So years ago when we went to Atlanta in order for my husband to attend a conference, he was unfazed when a sexist colleague teased him about the perils of a wife being let loose on the town with a credit card while they were at sessions. Imagine my husband's surprise when we met up later and showed him a most impractical, and somewhat pricey item I'd bought in Underground Atlanta -- a hand-blown clear glass Klein Bottle! This was an object I'd read about in science fiction books as a child, but I'd never seen a 3-dimensional interpretation of one before, nor had I ever seen glass being blown before, either. Needless to say, even though it was an object we could easily afford, my husband's colleague had great fun teasing us about my supposedly spendthrift wifely ways. The bottle came in a gift-box, and I was able to pack it so it didn't get broken during our flight home to DC, and after 37 years it's still among my prized possessions, having survived another move and residing in a glass-enclosed china cabinet.

I had to Google it to see what it is. Wow.

I purchased some tickets on Vueling air for within Spain travel. This is one of those discount European airlines where you have to pay for everything--checked bag, seat assignment, pay to pay, etc. That's fine. I knew about those fees when I booked. I do not normally check bags (and will not on my U.S. -Spain flight), but because of Vueling's weight limits for carry-on luggage, I paid to check one bag when I bought my ticket. I just got an email from Vueling saying they had reduced the bag size maximums for carry-on luggage and if my bag exceeds that, I will have to pay E20 (more than I am paying for my checked luggage). I do not think I will exceed the limits, but I also do not think it is fair to change the rules after I bought my ticket and when I no longer have the option to check a second bag at a cheaper price. I do not think this would be permitted in the U.S. (even though airlines get away with a LOT here). Do you think this is fair? Do you think I have any recourse if they deem my carry-on too big?

You're right, that's unfair. I would send a brief, polite email to the airline, asking to be grandfathered in. If they don't agree to it, please let me know. Here's how to contact me.

True, but in my expereience, AA takes the cake when it comes to issues like this. Especially if it involves going through Miami!

Budapest-- I really liked the New York Cafe. Cafe Gerbeaud is also recommendable. (Personally preferred the New York.) Beautifully and newly restored. Amsterdam-- Highly recommend the Van Gogh Museum. Make sure to buy tickets in advance as the line is LONG! I didn't do this (trip to Amsterdam was spontaneous) and only avoided the long-- we are talking waiting in line for hours-- because they came out and got the families with kids. (I have no idea if that is their regular practice or not.)

My dad used to travel for work a lot when I was a kid, and when I was in 4th grade he bought me an Atlanta sweatshirt. Pretty sure it was an airport special and he just grabbed the first one he saw, because it was an adult size XL. For a 9-year-old. 20 years later, it still fits (but I promise I don't actually wear it, fashionistas!).

How do you know it fits if you don't wear it? ;-)

My mother started working for the airlines when I was in the 4th grade and the family immediately decided to go to Tahiti, which we did that summer. While there, my 8-year-old mind couldn't get around the six rainbows I saw, including my first double rainbow, the black sand beaches, the exotic dancing, the gorgeous water and the most beautiful conch shells I've ever seen. But we didn't have a lot of space and everything was expensive, so we weren't allowed to buy anything. But the day before we were to leave, my mother and I went shopping and she bought me a little gold-plated vanilla bean necklace. I wore it for awhile, and then stored it away, but every time over the next umpteen years that I took out that little necklace it reminded me of the most exotic trip I've ever taken to the most beautiful place I've still ever been in my life.

Sounds gorgeous!

Hello Travel Team! I'm hoping you can help me pick an area in Goa for a week's vacation. I'll have been in India for about 12 days (Delhi, Bombay and Pune) by the time I get to Goa. I'll be travelling solo (39 year old female) and I've had some India-experienced friends say that I should go for a resort because "I'll need it" by the time I get to Goa. :-) I've read travel boards, guides, etc. and I still can't figure out the best area of Goa for a solo female traveller. I'd like to be in an area near the beach, but still within walking distance or a short (hired) drive to some interesting things to see. I don't want to be surrounded a frat-tastic or hippie bar scene, but would like easy (5-10 minute walk) access to some good restaurants and/or cafes. In terms of places to stay, the resorts seem to be on golf courses which is a bit of a turnoff, but I do want a nice room to stay in because I might not venture out alone at night too much by myself. Do you or any of the guests have any suggestions on which area to stay in (bonus points for specific hotel/resort suggestions)? Many thanks!

All my knowledge of Goa comes from the opening scene of "Bourne Supremacy." (It was good, wasn't it?)

Chatters, can you help?

Hi Flight Crew! I'll be in Brussels for work in January but would like to make a day trip or two to some nearby cities for a day trip or overnight trip. Where would you recommend?

Bruges, the city of canals, is gorgeous and only about 55 miles away. Worth a day or overnight trip for sure. Even closer is Ghent, which is probably just as beautiful but less well known and probably less visited. The architecture in the old city is just stunning. Museums host many of the great Flemish masters. Have not been to Antwerp, but would love to go; it looks really interesting. And if you're into military and Napoleonic history, there's of course Waterloo.

Other suggestions, chatters?

Hi! I'll be in Paris for five days in May, and I'd like to take a day trip to see the countryside. The only real restriction I have is that I won't have a car, so I'll need somewhere accessible by train or a tour group. (I'm not thrilled about tour groups, but I think it might be necessary in this case.) Any suggestions?

Take a look at Viator. It offers several day tours from Paris, including a Champagne region day trip for $150and a Loire Valley Castles day trip for $203. 

in Houston. Don't forget Immigration. That comes first, then waiting for one's bags, then Customs (usually just a matter of handing over a form one filled out on the plane and which the Immigration agent has initialed), then handing over checked bags to a transfer desk (assuming it's the same airline or one that has an interline agreement with the first one), then exiting the secure area, then going through TSA security to get to the gate of the next flight. Easy.

If you have time take a tour to Szedendre, it's a really cute artists town with a funky marzipan museum (there's full-size marzinpan Michael Jackson, well there was in 2003). Eat pastries, they're amazing at almost every bakery, and buy paprika.

I'm going from Merrifield to Dulles tomorrow for a 5:25 flight with my 5 month old. What time should I leave? How much traffic to Dulles should I worry about and how much time should I leave actually at the airport?

My first quetion: a.m. or p.m.?

If it is morning, you should have no problem. Give yourself the usual drive time, plus about 90 minutes at the airport (I added time because of your baby).


I don't know the evening traffic patterns from Merrifield but give yourself twice the time to drive there and park. To save time, check in online the night before and print out your boarding passes. Also, organize your bags beforehand, keeping any liquids in the outer pockets, so you can easily pull them out at security.  Also, wear slip-on shoes and limit your jewelry.

Because you are traveling with an infant, pick the family line at Dulles. A TSA agent can help you.


What prevents the captain of a plane stranded on the tarmac from telling his crew to deploy the slides and letting the passengers then walk to the terminal? Would the captain be fired for doing that?

The slides should only be used in an emergency. It costs thousands of dollars to redeploy a slide, so no crew would use the slide unless it were a real emergency. Or unless it's Steven Slater.

Don't forget about Versailles! It's an easy direct train ride from Paris, and you can spend all day exploring the palace, the gardens, the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon and the Hameau (Marie Antoinette's play farm).

Our group of 8-10 adults will take a 7-nights cruise from Rome. For our post-cruise we plan to visit either Warsaw or Prague. Which city would be better for a 3-day tour? How do we best get there from Rome and then return to London for our flight back to Washington DC? Any advices you might have on accommodation and guided tours for either city are appreciated. ThangMai

Well, of course I'm partial to Warsaw, but in this case, I think I would actually recommend Prague, which is a bit closer. I'd look for cheap flights on Ryanair or Easyjet, both for getting to Prague and then back to London. Can't offer advice on any guided tours, but I don't think you'll need 'em. Just walk around and you'll be dazzled. The whole city is a sight worth seeing. This Going Our Way column may help you with accommodations and touring. Or chatters, let's hear from you.

Thanks for the ideas!

I was hired to do PR for nuns and they sent me to spend a week at a mission in a remote Native Alaskan village an hour's bush plane ride from Anchorage toward the Bering Sea. It was the most remote place I'd ever been in my life and I spent that week listening to way too many tragic stories of drug use, alcoholism and suicide among the young people, as well as incredible stories of survival and redemption among young and old alike. They welcomed me to everything--their sharing circles and prayer rituals. Before departing on that little bush plane, one of the nuns gave me a button with the Grateful Dead lyric "What a long, strange trip it's been." Indeed.

Those sound like some hip nuns.

Couldn't agree more. Several years ago, a long delayed flight out of Cancun meant we missed our connection in Miami to DC on a Friday night. The first flight we could get out of Miami was TUESDAY night. We were broke and too young to rent a car, so we slept in the Miami airport for three days. No help from American re food vouchers or anything. And since our replacement tickets were dated for Tuesday, we couldn't leave security all weekend. So we walked back and forth down the long Miami terminal hallways ("25 minutes to Terminal A") for three days trying to fly standby.

OK, OK ... I do get more than a fair share of AA horror stories from Miami.

First off, it's "ramp," not "tarmac." Second, don't even think of opening a door. You'd very likely get hurt, and you'd definitely be arrested -- think "interfering with a flight crew," which is a federal charge. Further, if the jet is sitting with its engines running and you pop a door that's forward of the engines, you risk being sucked into an engine, which is definitely not recommended.

On your first point, it's true that people have been using an outdated term for pre-asphalt materials. The most accurate to be in the same spirit would be "concrete." 

For the business class traveller - check with consolidators too. You may find a real bargain; but be sure your travel dates are fixed - they don't do refunds. For the Mexico City day trips - my vote is for Tlaxcala - a beautiful colonial city on the route of Cortez's conquest and you can also see the archaelogical sites of Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl. The first is amazing for its well preserved colorful murals. Lastly - my collectable of choice for many years was letter openers. Remember when people sent letters by mail? Some were anachronistic, like the obsidian one with Mayan motifs - did they really want us to think this was how ancient Mayans opened their mail? Most display local craftsmanship - like pewter from Malaysia. I gave up when TSA would no longer let anything shaped like that through in hand luggage and the airlines started charging for checked bags - $25 so I can bring back my $10 souvenier??

I love the idea of Mayans opening mail. Thanks.

I just booked an amazing trip to Buenos Aires (5 days), Iguazu falls (2 days), and Santiago (5 days). Do you have any recommendations on what are must see or dos? We are active, in our late twenties, and have moderate Spanish speaking skills. It'll be our first time in South America, but we are both fairly well traveled.

Here's an article on cool  Buenos Aires street art.  Beyond that, chatters, what do you recommend?

I was in Mexico and wanted one of those beautiful Talavera sinks for my bathroom remodel. I wrapped it in bubble wrap, put it in a nylon bag and carried it against my body like a fake pregnancy (it was heavy!) When I went through screening it went through the machine. The TSA guy backed it up and sent it through again. Backed it up again. Then he asked me what it was. A sink, I mumbled. A SINK he shouted. Everyone looked at me like I was a crazy woman, but that sink is gorgeous and it makes the bathroom so special.

You didn't have it under your shirt, did you? Oh, my.

My cousin and I are a couple of slow-moving older ladies who have both long dreamed of visiting Rio de Janeiro. I suggested that Brazilian winter would have more pleasant (i.e., cooler) temperatures, right? Do you know of any reputable organizations who make provisions for older folks who aren't quite so, um, vigorous any more? It doesn't seem like a very wise idea for a pair of older ladies to visit such a huge city on our own the first time, don't you think? My cousin and I can still walk, but do tire easily. What other hassles do you suggest we try to avoid? Do you have links to any articles for us that you could please post? Obrigada!

Tour groups typically make provisions for seniors. But most tour groups twin Brazil with Argentina. In other words, they don't do a Rio-only tour. Road Scholar, formally Elderhostel, does have a Rio tour, but walking is a part of it. And it is cooler to travel to Brazil May-October. 

Had a similar problem with (a leading travel discounter in Latin America) as they booked my flights and hotels, then cancelled them as my credit card was declined. Calling my bank (from Lima Peru) twice to find there was no actvity good or bad from and then to find Despegar.cpm billed a $15 USD cancellation fee! I arranged flights with direct with LAN and the Hotel Dorado Plaza in Iquitas with no problem. Spent the rest of our visit in the Amazon Rainforest Lodge. Love the monkeys!!!

To the chatters who may be going to Prague- we stayed in the Czech Inn and it was great- it's a "boutique" hostel in the neighborhood of Vinohrady. The same company has a couple of other places that we also heard good things about- Miss Sophie's and Mosaic House. The chatters didn't mention their budget but don't let the word hostel scare you off- you can get a private room with bathroom and everything is quite new. Accomodation in Prague can be quite expensive. The Czech Inn was cheaper, and nicer, than anything we stayed at during our three week European adventure. Have fun!

Just booked a dream trip to the Galapagos in April. We will have a few days in Quito, Guayaquil and also Panama. Any tips for what to do on our visit to these cities? I would love to cruise the Panama Canal for the day but it appears our visit on Monday and Tuesday does not coincide with when the tour companies offer canal excursions (Saturday). Thanks!

Oh, you are going to love this trip!

For Panama, check Viator for daily Panama cruises. Tropical Nature Travel also offer eco-tour cruises on the canal. In Quito and Guayaquil, the crafts markets are amazing. I bought beaded necklaces, wool hats, alpaca  scarves--so much great stuff. Also, take a walking tour of the historic sites and be sure to plant yourself at a cafe in Quito's Mariscal district and just watch the people.

many years ago, my husband and I bought a beautiful pottery lamp and shade at the Louis Mulcahy pottery near Dingle, Ireland. There was no problem in having the lamp shipped, but the shade, although large, was very light, and they suggested that we take it with us. We had it in the trunk of our car for the rest of the trip, and as a carryon in the plan from Dublin to London, to connect with our flight home. However, fog problems meant our plane had to fly into Heathrow - and the connecting flight was out of Gatwick. British Air organized a coach for all the passengers who had to make the transfer (remember, this was at least 15 years ago), and I had to sit for an hour with the boxed shade on my lap, in the very back of the bus - all the while staring at the clock over the driver's head, wondering if we'd make our flight back. The lamp is in our dining room, and every time I look at it, I remember that trip...


We've reached our destination -- thanks for flying with us today. Hope you found it useful!

Now for the prize: It goes to the woman who successfully got a SINK past the TSA. Well played. Send your mailing information to Becky Krystal at, and we'll get you something fun.

See you next week -- and happy Thanksgiving!

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Flight Crew
The Washington Post Travel section is your source for narrative tales and practical advice about journeys far and wide -- from weekend trips to the Eastern Shore, to two-week jaunts to the Far East -- plus consumer news, penny-pinching strategies and deals galore.
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