Talk about Travel

Nov 28, 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 our annual ski issue features Sun Valley, a history of ski lifts and cable cars and a roundup of alternative winter activities in the Mid-Atlantic.

Good afternoon, all! Thanks for joining us on this Cyber Monday and perhaps pausing your shopping long enough to chat about travel. It was a lovely warm weekend in D.C., but we hope you enjoyed our ski issue that featured Sun Valley, ski lifts and unique activities in the mid-Atlantic. What has been your most memorable ski --  or other winter activity -- experience? Best answer wins the prize.

Now let's get started!

Last week I wrote in asking about travel to Ireland the week before Easter. Another poster wrote in warning me off because they said that much of Ireland closes down. As travel experts, do you really think that is the case? My wife is a teacher so our ability to travel to Europe is dictated by her schedule, but I don't want to go and be shut out of pubs, restaurants, etc. Would Paris or London be better, or equally closed down the week before Easter? Thank you!

I think you're probably safe going. Obviously, they have somewhat of a stake in it, but the person at Tourism Ireland I just spoke with said the biggest thing you'd have to worry about are the pubs closing on Good Friday. Otherwise, it should be business as usual.

Hi travel gurus! I've been trying to plan a trip to Cancun early next year, but it seems like there are very very few non-stop flights compared to years past. Is this a route airlines have cut back on? My need for a swim-up bar hopes not! Thanks!

Airlines have cut back on just about all nonstop routes. Cancun is one of the few that still offers nonstop service from our region: United flies there from Dulles and Airtran from BWI. But because there is less competition than in previous years, fares have gone up. Look into a package deal via a travel agent or tour operator, such as Apple Vacations.  

We'll be in Rome in July for a wedding, and want to add on a few extra days. We've been to Rome several times, and want to venture farther afield. Any suggestions? We like museums, churches, and restaurants. We are not the hiking types. Thanks!

Have you been to Pompeii? You might consider a day trip -- express train to Naples, then a local to Pompeii. Or join a tour that will take you directly there. Definitely worth a visit. If you don't want to go that far, there's also an archaeological site closer to Rome at Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber. You could also visit the Appia Antica park and its catacombs, accessible by local bus; ditto Tivoli and the Villa d'Este with its great gardens. The town of Orvieto, in the Umbrian hills about an hour outside Rome, is also very nice.

Chatters, do you have more?

I fly frequently (Gold level)and am always frustrated that flight attendants don;t monitor the stowing of luggage. Folks put their carry-ons in the bins that are far forward and then go to their seats farther back. So, someone sitting in the farther forward seats have no place for their carry-ons. It would also be great if the FAs would have the big bag go in the overhead bin and the second bag under the seat. Especially when so many are wearing heavy coats these coming months and need to put those overhead.. On a recent flight a FA spent more time going up and down the aisles trying to sell the Gold Delta credit card than she did in monitoring how passengers were getting settled.

Those are called bin hogs, and you're right, the flight attendants should be making sure they put their carry-on items in the bin above them, not someone else, before selling another worthless affinity card.

Hi crew! Boyfriend and I decided that instead of gifts we are going to treat ourselves to a mini vacation after Christmas. We are thinking bed and breakfast, a good meal and some snow shoeing in New England (I'm not coordinated enough for skiing). Any destinations that you can recommend? We are thinking New Years weekend, but wonder if things will be crowded/expensive. Thanks!

I'm a fan of Vermont's Mad River Valley, about 45 minutes from Burlington. There are lots of cute B&Bs - I liked Millbrook Inn. The nearby Mad River Glen ski area has snowshoe trails and naturalist programs. And yes, New Year's is always more expensive, but that makes sense, as everyone wants to celebrate the holiday. 

I lived in Jerusalem for two years and kept hoping to see the city turn white with snow. Late one night, my wish came true! Big thick flakes started falling down. Although they were sticking, I guessed that they wouldn't make it until the next morning. So a friend and I ran out straight to the Old City at around 11pm. The streets were silent, and covered with snow. The one person out was the caretaker of an Armenian church. He invited us into the church's courtyard, which was normally closed to the public, to see the beautiful art covered in snow. We walked for another hour or two and then went home to bed. By the next morning, there wasn't a flake to be seen and it didn't snow again for the rest of the time I lived in the country.

That sounds quite magical.

Thanks for the great article on Sun Valley! Makes me want to go back Right Now! Terrific place for recreation in the summer too. And yes, I've met Bruce Willis on the street!

Yup, that was a fine piece by regular Travel contributor John Briley.

My flight left DCA 30 minutes late last Tuesday because the flight was _overweight_. They threatened to remove checked bags to get underweight, but a couple were bribed (with vouchers) to get off and take a flight the next day. The plane (a 50-seater) was full, but it wasn't like it was full of sumo wrestlers. How exactly does that happen?

I've heard of that happening mostly on smaller aircraft, like regional jets or turboprops. The aircraft can't take off if it's too heavy, so either cargo or passengers have to be removed. Remember, you're entitled to denied boarding compensation when that happens.

A couple of comments from last week's chat: Yes, yes, yes -- go to Bruges. It is ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT. Going in January is probably a lot better than when we went -- a June Saturday. My only suggestion (other than thorough research on what you want to see and how much you're willing to spend on your piece of handmade Belgian lace), is get there as early as possible. I'd go back in a heartbeat. Second, please stop recommending Super Shuttle for pickups at home. They're terrible, always late. Get a cab, or if you got a good deal on Southwest out of BWI, get a limo. It's comfy and the driver helps with your bags. Yes, cabs and limos are more expensive than Stupid Shuttle, but the first two choices will be on time and won't make any other stops on the way to the airport.

Thanks on both counts. If I'm not flying out of BWI on a weekend (and therefore driving there), I like to take the MARC train. Easy and cheap.

where do I find information about trips offered by the Post? I've seen ads in the paper but can't find a list online about organized trips that are available.

Here's the link. Usual disclaimer: None of us in the editorial side of the paper are involved in these trips.

Hi Crew. As an airline passenger, what rights do I have involving the dreaded armrest? Am I required to lift it up if my neighbor asks me to, thereby allowing him to spill into my seat? Or do I have the right to keep it down, thereby preserving the seat I paid hundreds of dollars for?

You have the right to have the armrest down. If your seatmate refuses, talk to the flight attendant. If your seatmate is too large, then ask if you can move to another seat.

My family will have a 24 hour layover in London during a return from a celebratory trip to Greece. We arrive late morning and leave around the same time the next day. While we love London, we realize that's not a whole lot of time to do much in the city and make it back to Gatwick comfortably for a morning international flight. Do you have any recommendations for any places to visit or stay that are near Gatwick, but outside of the city? Alternatively, what London hotels are most coveniently situated to Gatwick?


If you're looking for a different experience, you could try the Yotel (Andrea stayed at the New York outpost) or the No. 1 Traveller lounge (Andrea checked out the Heathrow one).

I highly recommend the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont (the southern part of the state). I have no affiliation with the inn except as a longtime guest. Your room fee includes breakfast and dinner, both of which are amazing. The only TV is in the bar and there are no room phones, so it's a very quiet, relaxing place. They have trains for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and they're close to other places for those activities too. Fair warning: they may very well be booked for December/early January.

Did my question come thru?? I am new at this. I was asking about traveling to Bangkok in February. Is the tourism industry greatly harmed by the flooding?

According to iJet, a travel-risk consulting company, the tourism industry is virtually untouched by the flooding. Have a look at this recent Coming and Going item on the subject.

Good morning! I will soon be travelling to Vegas with a couple of senior citizens. Do you have any suggestions for them? While I would like to go to the latest clubs, that isn't quite their speed. They are on a budget but wouldn't mind doing some siteseeing that won't keep them on their feet all day. Thanks!

Vegas, as I've said before, is prime people-watching territory, and that's something you can do while sitting! There are lots of places to sit all along the Strip, inside and outside casinos, and you can just while away the time gawking at the parade of humanity that passes by.

Do they gamble? So much of that, of course, doesn't require them to be on their feet.

As far as sightseeing on a budget, there's plenty of free stuff to see, which I recommended in a recent chat: lions at MGM Grand, exotic birds in Flamingo, the fountains and gardens at the Bellagio, pirate show at Treasure Island, the cheesy light show at Fremont Street, and on and on. And I would say at virtually every one of those, there will be places nearby to sit.

A pricier thing to do without being on your feet, naturally, is to take in a show or two. There's a million of 'em -- take a look at this listing and see if anything jumps out at you that they might want to see. (Maybe you could gift them some tickets?)


For the Rome-bound chatter who likes churches, Assisi might be a good choice. There are two basilicas devoted to the town's beloved native saints, Francis and Clare, along with several others, including San Damiano. Assisi is not exactly undiscovered, but it is a lovely place to visit with beautiful scenery and, like every other place I've been in Italy, great food.

I should have stayed home. When we lived in Texas, my wife and I joined a church group heading to Colorado for a weekend introduction to skiing. Unfortunately, I found I could not tolerate high altitudes and spent the weekend gasping for breath with altitude sickness. My wife, on the other hand, had a great time.

We decided to fly up from DC to Buffalo one February (many years ago) for a couple days of cross-country skiing over the long Presidents' Day weekend -- because if there's anywhere that ought to have abundant snow then it'd be Buffalo, right? -- only to encounter a record warm spell for those dates! We managed to slop around in the remaining slushy snow the first day in 45F temps, using gloppy red klister wax to enhance our skis' grip at a park in the "Southern Tier" (traditionally snowy area south of town). However, as the next day was forecast to be significantly warmer, we abandoned all hope of XC and instead headed to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake for sightseeing. It was an actually enjoyable trip after all, just not the one we'd expected.

A big part of traveling is about rolling with the punches. 

We need some advice about how frequently and for what reasons old people are denied actually using exit row seats on transcontinental flights (on United if that makes any difference). I did the ticketing and seat selection online, and the system let me select exit row seats. My SOA however believes that when we actually board the flight, the flight attendants will look at us and not let us sit there but will move us to separated middle seats somewhere in the last rows of the plane. We are both retired but certainly not infirm and I think we could help evacuate the plane in an emergency etc. etc. The only substantive and non-fuzzy rule about age seems to be that you have to be older than 15, so I wonder if you (collectively) have any anecdotal evidence -- probably no direct experience -- in this area, and can shed any light on this apparent fact that the FA's on the plane are the first and last judges of who gets to sit in an exit row.

The flight attendants have to make a judgment call about the folks in the exit row. In the event of an evacuation, would the passengers in the exit row be able to assist in an evacuation? If they believe you are unable, they may ask you to move -- and I've seen them do that. Here's more information about the FAA safety requirements.

I am looking at taking a tour to Borneo and Thailand through Friendly Planet Travel. Do you or your readers have any feedback on their tours? I have traveled solo all over North Anerica and Europe but Asia is a little out of my solo travel comfort zone, so I am thinking of using a tour group.

Friendly Planet is certainly a well-known tour organizer, though I have no personal experience with their trips. Let's ask the chatters if any of them do?

I read Mr. Yarvin's article on cable cars and chair lifts with interest. One subject he didn't touch on were emergency procedures in place if things go haywire and passengers had to evacuate the cabin. Were any of these instructions posted in any of the cable cars he rode in various locales, including the last one between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island?

Brian says:

Yes, there are emergency procedures in place if things go haywire. The questions I would ask are "can we understand them?" and "how well trained is the staff in executing them?"

While I didn't see specific safety instructions on any cable car, all were manned by people who were reasonably fluent in English. I asked the attendent on the Roosevelt Island Tramway if he was "ready for problems" and he nodded "yes." Indeed, evacuations of that tram are so well publicized that he'd know that the eyes of the world's media capital are watching him.

I was far more concerned in the Chamonix valley; there, you can be sure that the emergency workers will speak excellent French and at least rudimentary English, but not much more. I would estimate that at least a quarter of the people crammed into those cars with me spoke neither. (I am a serious and passionate evesdropper.)

While I didn't ride any for the article and haven't ridden one in decades, I'd be much more frightened of open chairlifts in this situation. Up in the chair, there's no way to communicate with you at all. I could imagine a simple delay turning into a panic because nobody knew what was going on.

My reccomendation? Keep your phone charged and on, and take the lift's phone number with you. (It's in all the brochures.) That way, if you're stuck, you can promptly report it.

Oh yeah...I am completely and absolutely unqualified to offer this advice.


I would like to take my son to Spain this summer, just the two of us - without my husband. Would you recommend that we use a tour group rather than go by ourselves? Could you recommend a tour that wouldn't be too restrictive? I'd like the security of a group, without having every second of my day planned. Thank you for your help.

You could do it on your own as long as you are a little adventurous and you enjoy planning. Spain is a friendly country. I've driven along the coast, stopping at smaller cities/towns, and had no trouble. But it may be more fun to be with a group, although many tours tend to attract mostly senior citizens.  Take a look at Intrepid Travel - it attracts a younger crowd. Also, there is an association of independent tour operators in England - you may get some ideas there.  And take a look at the United States Tour Operators Association

Just wanted to vent that my flight on Sunday was delayed 2 hours because the sink was broken. We were informed the options were A) the first officer manages to fix the sink B) they shut down the bathroom or C) the maintainence crew signs paperwork acknowledging the sink is broken, but not actually fix it. Delta went with solution C which somehow took 2 hours, but I wanted to pass a petition around the gate with all passengers agreeing we could handle a 1 hour flight with no bathroom.

It's always something, isn't it?

If last week's chatter looking to spend New Year's in New Orleans is in the house, we heard from someone who has a place to rent. If you're interested, send us a note to so we can hook you two up.

Tauck tours has a cruise/tour of subject venues during Jan./Feb. Three basic questions...1). Have you received any feedback from this tour in the past.. 2) Are you aware of whether the timeframe is a good one...and, 3). for an individual who suffers sometimes from motion sickness, does a "cruise" require motion sickness medicine thereby foregoing an occasional cocktail onboard. ? Thanks

I'm not familiar with this specific tour, but Tauck has a good rep. Weather should be warm, and it's not the rainy season. I don't think you'll need motion sickness medicine for that itinerary, but there is always the chance of rough waters outside the canal. I'd take it along. 

I was looking through the guide to see what's on tv and I noticed something new on the travel channel. It's by anthony bordain and it is focusing n on long layovers at airports in large cities and what to do if you are going to be there for 24 hrs.

Yes, it's called "The Layover." It's on our radar!

Last week's chat involving things like planes sitting on tarmacs and escalators at Metro stations not working prompted me to send out a little reminder during the busy holiday season: even during the stressful, infuriating, situations that often arise, try to be nice to the little people. By little people, I mean the people whom you're usually dealing with directly, who usually don't have much to do with your problem except for the fact that they work at the same company. It isn't the flight attendant's fault that the plane is delayed; it isn't the cashier's fault that the store is a madhouse; it isn't the receptionist's fault that the hotel charges for wifi. It accomplishes nothing, it makes their day measurably more miserable than it was before, and it makes them less amenable to doing the little things in their power to make your inconvenience more comfortable. Save your rant for someone who can actually do something about it, whether that entails asking for a manager, or saving it for an official complaint via email or phone call at home. (Obviously, if the person standing before you is obviously, directly responsible, complain away. But remember that chains of power can be complex and confusing, and maybe those Metro employees just plain aren't allowed to reverse the direction of one of those escalators.)

Nicely put, thanks.

I'm thinking of taking a trip to San Francisco in early to mid April. We'd like to spend some time in the city and then take a drive to napa Valley. Is that a bad time to do the vineyards in that area or will we be okay? I don't know much about northern California weather and don't want to go visit vineyards that are closed for the season. Thanks!

It's nice in Northern California in April -- heck, it's nice there most of the year. In Napa town, for instance, the averages that month are lows in the mid 40s and highs in the low 70s. The weather can be a little unpredictable, but certainly not unpleasant. Some people find this the best time to visit, because the vineyards are starting to bud, wildflowers are blooming and prices are low. Wineries are open -- check out this list of events in the area that month for inspiration.

We also have an upcoming story about winter in wine country, when the mustard flowers are blooming everywhere.

Someone should make a gadget that extends the arm rest downward so that your large neighbor's hips and buttocks will stay on their own side. Call it the Seat Saver.

In 1985, I spent a week in Cervinia, Italy, which is the Italian side of the Matterhorn. I was with a very small group (6) of airline employees, and one night we signed up for dinner at a restaurant on the mountain. The organizers said that anyone who wanted to participate in a torchlight procession down the mountain after dinner should bring their skis, so I brought my equipment when we rode the lift up to the restaurant. After a wonderful dinner (no surprise in Cervinia), we geared up and met outside the restaurant. Skiiing in the dark by torchlight was a new experience, as was skiing without poles. Oh, and the huge flaming torch I was carrying -- that was new too. We were strongly advised not to fall, since we would likely set ourselves on fire in the process. The torchlight procession was an unforgettable experience, and we all made it safely to the village at the bottom; no unplanned combustion. But the thing that left me totally speechless was when the head of the ski school -- a distinguished-looking 60-ish gentleman with a magnificent mane of silver hair -- led off the procession. He didn't have a torch, but he did have a young woman sitting on his shoulders! (For reference, the run was probably 2 miles, not the tiny East Coast trails.)

Very cool.

I'm planning to take my father and sister to an all inclusive for a long weekend in February departing from San Juan Puerto Rico. We've been several times in the Dominican Republic and would like to explore other all inclusive in the Caribbean. Our budget is $750 pp for the long weekend and should include flights. We considered Cancun but cant find a good deal except for non-all inclusive hotels which I don't have a problem with, but we will be end up paying more if we need to pay for food, snacks and drinks separately. Are there other all inclusive destinations in the Caribbean more affordable? We are open to all Latin American countries and we don't necessarily need to be in beach areas. Thanks!

DR, Cancun and Jamaica are known for their all-inclusive resorts. There are a few here and there on other islands, but those three places offer the most choices. Unfortunately, the place where you'd likely get a good deal - Jamaica - has no nonstop air service from San Juan. Most nonstop flights go to the USVI and BVI. Take a look at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas. 

Any ideas for a 3-day-or-so side trip from Paris for two 20-somethings who like history and wine? We're considering the Loire Valley but would love to know a) what shouldn't we miss there and b) should we be looking elsewhere.

The Loire valley is certainly beautiful, but you might also consider Normandy. My husband and I did that on a trip a couple of years ago, although we skipped the beaches, because he'd already been. But if you like history, you should definitely go there. We drove to Lisieux, charming town and I have a thing about St. Therese, then to Mont St. Michel, and spent a night on the island. Just fabulous! Also in the vicinity, or on the way, though we didn't have time for either, are Giverny, where Monet painted his famous gardens, and Chartres, which I will still get to one of these days.

Chatters, your thoughts?

Thanks again for the advice regarding wifi on Amtrak trains last week. I traveled from DC to Montreal and back this past Thanksgiving. The internet worked throughout on the Northeaster (from DC to NY and back) but only part of the way on the Adirondack line. However, it was so pretty looking at the Hudson River valley and Adirondacks that I didn't mind! Surprisingly, despite lasting about 17 hours each way, the trip was relaxed and cozy: much better than driving! I even saw some families with small children who seemed quite mellow. The car we were in was even nicer than the 2nd class trains I've been on in Germany. I was also surprised by how nice and easy it was to transfer at Penn Station in NYC. After this positive experience, I'd recommend the train as a great alternative for those who have the time for it. Likewise, I hope to take a longer trip across the US at some point in the future. I've heard lines like the Southwest Chief are pretty amazing!

I'm going to Montgomery, AL for work next month. Will be free on Sunday to sight- see. Can you suggest civil rights history sites we can visit that will be open on Sunday? Many of the major ones seem to be closed that day. Thanks for these very informative chats!

Well, you could try the city's audio tour, which might not rely as much on things actually being open, but for a query that specific, I would just call the tourism office (800-240-9452)! People at those places are always so happy to help.

Responding late to the reader who asked last week about how to spend time in Quito: My brother and I spent a week in Quito earlier this month. The surprise highlight of our trip was a half-day outing to the Mitad del Mundo (equator). We spent almost two hours at the Museo Intinan, which we found fascinating and fun. Museum tours are led by university students; our guide spoke impeccable English and was great fun. Take your passport, and they'll put a Latitude stamp in it. We skipped the old monument when we saw a line of people about 100 deep, so we don't know what we may have missed. The same morning, our driver also took us to the nearby Mirador (overlook) Pululahua, the overlook to a beautiful caldera; we were sorry we did not have time for a hike. Your hotel can refer you to a reliable and knowledgeable driver; the going rate is about $10 an hour. Your chances of getting a driver who is also a good guide are much greater if you speak/understand Spanish, but most drivers are likely to speak at least a little English. Also highly recommended is a day trip to Cotopaxi -- although the rainy season has started, and views are likely to be disappointing. The landscape, even with limited views, is impressive, and the experience of walking at 14,000 or 15,000 feet is memorable. This excursion would offer views of a completely different part of Ecuador to complement the Galapagos visit. Most tour companies offer a private excursion for about $60/person (though Metropolitan Touring, which has the highest recommendations, quoted more than $200). Ask your hotel in advance. Note that guides within Cotopaxi National Park must be licensed, so you will not be able to simply hire a driver -- though your driver may know someone who can take you (or meet you and your driver at the park entrance) for less than the cost of one of the packaged excursions. We also enjoyed the Mari­a Augusta Urrutia House Museum -- but do accept the offer of a (free) guide; there are few signs to explain what you are seeing. As for where to stay, my brother and I would disagree with the recommendation to stay in Mariscal. We had not been able to decide between hotels, so we tried small hotels in both the Historic Center and the Mariscal district -- and we liked the Historic Center better. The Mariscal has one small area where things seemed quite lively (which also means noisy), but the cafes and restaurants did not seem particularly Quito. Much of the area is residential and, while pleasant, is not particularly interesting. We felt we could have been anywhere in the US. For great people watching, head to Plaza Grande in the Centro Historico. Calle La Ronda, a recently restored street, is lined with restaurants, cafes and bars, and very lively in the evening. Everywhere, we found people unfailingly polite, and some went so far out of their way to be helpful that it was embarrassing. Do enjoy -- you will love Ecuador!

So much info. Thanks!

My 13 year old granddaughter will be in Rome during spring break March 30 to April 9. Is there a cooking school that teaches pizza making she might attend?

The Guardian had good things to say about a pizza course that Gabriele Bonci teaches in Rome. See this link for details (you might need some Italian translation help). recommended these two outfits, one of which offers pizzamaking geared toward young people.

I just flew Alaska Air and had to sit with my purse on my lap because my relatively small carry on bag (compared to others - it was just a backpack) filled up the tiny space under the seat in front of me. People sitting at the back of the plane board first and apparently stuffed their bags wherever they felt like it. So the last people to board had to check their bags due to there being no more space in the bins. What the heck? Why didn't the flight attendants stop people from putting their bags above seats where they weren't sitting? This almost happened again on my return flight.

A friend of mine, who is a flight attendant, says more fights occur on planes because of carry-on luggage than anything else. Which is probably why the crewmembers don't want to get involved. I've been the victim of a bin hog, too, and the worst thing is, you don't really know who did it until the end of the flight.

good noon hour all, i am looking to travel to the eu over the december holidays and found a fare of about $1200 R/T for just over a week's stay to germany and spain departing around christmas and returning around new years. is that too much to pay? should i wait until closer in? thanks for the advice.

I doubt you'll do much than that, although there may be a last-minute sale if seats are going begging. Some airlines allow you to look at seat maps before you buy. That's one way of figuring out whether fares may go down. If there are lots of open seats, there may be a sale. No open seats, no sale. 

My dad was a journalist, and a member of the North American Ski Journalists Association. Every year was kicked off by an NASJA weekend at Yosemite, where we stayed at Curry Lodge. It was like a family reunion every year! But the most memorable weekend was when I was in junior high. He was VP of the NASJA that year, and one of two journalists invited to cover the celebrity ski weekend fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at one of the resorts in Colorado. I got to go with him. Most of the celebrities were B list--soap opera stars, the BeeGees, etc. But a few were on the rise, and Michael Bolton was there. One day, my dad was off interviewing someone, and I was waiting in a quonset for him. A woman came in, and threw herself on the bench next to me. A man walked in and said "Did you know Jim fell down while you were coming down the hill?" She gasped and said "No! Was the camera damaged?" She turned to me and said "It's only a $60,000 camera." It was Rosie O'Donnell! Years later, I saw her on Oprah with Michael Bolton, and they were reminiscing about how they became friends--that weekend, skiing in Colorado. I also had a great weekend skiing with Kim Reichhelm on one of those trips. She invited me to a women's ski retreat, but sadly, I was too timid to go by myself. When I started college, one of my classmates had a poster of her on his wall, and I thought he was going to die when I told him that I knew her.

Another story on the inconsistency of TSA: my boyfriend flew home for Thanksgiving this weekend with a 5 pound weight in his carry on so he could get some exercising in (I promise he can lift a lot more than that). No problems going through security at Boston, but coming back through Richmond he was told it was prohibited since it was a heavy, blunt object that could be used as a weapon. He argued that his laptop was an even heavier, blunt object that could be used as a weapon which enterained a few TSA agents, but not the supervisor.

The Boston TSA agents screwed up. Handweights are not allowed.

Does your boyfriend know about these for next time?

Hello. Love the chats! I'm wondering about the best way for my husband and me to structure a week-long vacation to Dublin and London. Neither of us has ever been to England or Ireland, and while we would like to station ourselves in those two cities, we're open to fun day trips elsewhere. Any ideas? Thanks!

A week barely gives you enough time just to enjoy both London and Dublin. I'd forget the side trips -- save them for another trip --  and stay put in those two cities, especially if you've never been before. There's tons and tons to see and do in London, and Dublin's no slouch either. If you need ideas, check out this recent story on Dublin libraries, and a week from Sunday, we'll have a story on London's East End as it prepares for the upcoming Olympics. Chatters, what do you think?

You didn't answer the chatter's question: How does that happen? It happens when either (1) the total weight of the airplane, its crew, fuel, passengers, and baggage exceeds the maximum gross weight, or (2) when the loaded airplane's center of gravity (CG) is outside permissible limits. Both the MGW and CG limit are specified as part of the aircraft certification process, though there may be small variations among individual aircraft caused by configuration differences. Thus, that regional jet (sounds like that's what it was) might have been actually overweight, or the CG might have been out of limits. I very much doubt that airline personnel would have tried to make that distinction in communicating to passengers.

Thank you for the clarification.

Nice idea -- and make it extend up a few inches to keep elbows in check too. I once resorted to propping up a thick magazine on my side of the armrest to save my ribs. My fellow passenger was not overweight, but he had broad shoulders and an apparent inability to keep his arms at (or even near) his sides.

I hear that. I was on a flight back from St. Louis once and the guy next to me kept elbowing me in my ribs. Sadly didn't quite stop even after I asked him to mind his space.

If we booked tickets for a Lufthansa flight operated by United do we check in with Lufthansa or United?

Check in with the airline that is operating the flight - in this case, United. 

My wife and I will be in Paris on New Year's Eve and would like to spend the evening on the Champs Elysees. We do not wish to just stand on the street and would like to know if it is feasible to bar/cafe hop without reservations or without waiting in line? Or, can you recommend a fairly casual bistro or brasserie that might accept reservations? Merci

Alas, I've never been fortunate enough to spend New Year's Eve in Paris. The chatters will have to help us out with his. How does it work, guys?

I am planning a trip to Hawaii and the West Coast of the US this summer to visit friends. Would it be cheapest to buy it as one ticket with a looong layover, two sets of round-trip tickets or the round-trip to Honolulu and two one-way tickets to and from the West Coast? Is there a specific summer month where the route would be cheapest? Is there a specific West Coast city with the cheapest airfare to HI? Any carriers to look out for? I know these are a lot of questions but I appreciate any and all help!

Without knowing how long you plan to stay in each place, hard to say. I'd go to a site such as Bing Travel or Kayak and price it out different ways. There is no cheapest month in summer. There are frequent sales to Hawaii from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland. Keep your eye on  Hawaiian Air.  

I wrote in September asking advice about traveling to Ireland in November. Well I'm back and had a great time. Weather was perfect- 50's and 60's, and I only used an umbrella once! It was a great time to visit and saw very few tourists, so I saw more of the real Ireland. The highlights of the trip were the Killarney National Park and the drive through the Connemara to the Kylemore Abbey. Thanks to you and the readers on all the advice!

Glad you had fun! Thanks for the report.

We will arrive in Rome about 7 hours before our son's flight arrives. Allowing for customs, etc., how should we use that time? Should we go into the city or pick up our rental car and visit Ostia Antica or some other nearby sights?

Can your son come find you on his own once he arrives? What are you planning to do with him? Are you staying in Rome at least the first night? Since you have a car, I'm imagining that you're not planning to be in Rome the whole time. Can you think of things you'd be into seeing that he wouldn't? I'd try to get some of that out of the way. Rome's airport is close to town -- maybe you could go see some things he wouldn't be into and then check into the hotel and get everything set up so he can hit the ground running with you when you arrive.

Hello. We bought non refundable American Airline tickets thru a travel agent to Punta Cana in April. We have trip insurance but I believe the airfare is non refundable. If they go bankrupt do you know If I have any options? Do you have any idea of anything I can do? Thank you.

I wouldn't be too concerned. American hasn't filed for bankruptcy protection, and even if it does, it's a very long way from there to shutting down. You'll be fine.

Hi Travel crew - some years ago, my husband and i decided to go sking in Sunday River, ME between Christmas and New Years. We were pretty excited as we don't go on vacation much - we both travel a lot for work - so we were looking forward to it. Well, the day before our flight out, i started feeling quite stuffy/achy/fluey, but I shrugged it off. OK, what a trying trip. BOth of us ended up with a really miserable flu, yet we were determined to ski. So we kept trying - sore all over, cold as can be, just generally miserable. I think people on the ski lifts thought I was trying to cough up a lung. What I remember most is trying to get home. A blizzard unexpectedly started moving in, so we headed to the airport early to try get an earlier flight and then spent HOURS practcially passed out on the airport floor wating to see what happened. Oh yeah, it was just great...

Bummer! I hope you get a redo on that trip at some point.

Buffalo is not the snow capital of the country. It gets a good amount of snow...but what drives the snow fall is being next to lake Erie. You need cold air going over relatively warmer water to get snow or ran. In October and most of November it's rain mostly. Decmber till the lake freezes it's snow. To get the cold air that is necessary you need north or north west wnd over the lake which pushes the snow to the south of buffalo into the foothills. Buffalo has never been a cross country skiing tourist spot.

Skiing is not great in Buffalo. But when I was in college there, we did get 18 feet of snow.....

Just wanted to chime in for the chatter from last week. I LOVE Buenos Aires, and if the air quality were better I'd go back again in a snap. My suggestions are: get Frommer's suggested tours and do them - we did the whole city. The architecture is amazing!! Go to the cemetery with Eva Peron - amazing. And this was my favorite restaurant - R rated theme, but amazing food!! As far as Iguazu Falls, not much to do there but tour the falls by foot and by boat. But that's enough - they are gorgeous!

The FAs are not being paid while the plane is at the gate -- the problem is the gate agents taking tickets/boarding passes allowing passengers to board with bags that are too big and too many bags.

That's true. Good point.

My mom and I are looking for a destination for our annual trip, and Finland/Estonia have been suggested. We go for 1 week, and past destinations have been London, Toronto, and Yellowstone. We prefer not to rent (drive) a car overseas, so a walkable/public transit city is good. Mom is over 70 and I'm in my mid-30's, both mobile and ready to explore someplace new. Do you think a few days each in Finland/Estonia is a good choice? Any other suggestions?

Anyone have input on Finland or Estonia? Don't know why it came to mind -- other than I really want to go -- but another option up that way is Stockholm.

I read a great tip recently: To keep an eye on your carry-ons in case someone should try to tamper with them in the overhead bin (or worse), place them in the bin ACROSS THE AISLE from where you're sitting, so you can see if anyone's tampering with or trying to steal from it.

That's fine if everyone does that. But technically, the space above you is for your carry-on, at least according to the inflight announcement.

We're considering a springtime trip to Puerto Rico with our 2 year old son (who is already an experienced world traveler!) Because we only have a week's time, I would prefer not to move hotels too often, but would rather pick a couple of bases and day trip or explore from there. San Juan will definitely be one of the bases - what is your thought on the other? I was thinking Vieques, but wondering if there's enough to do between San Juan and Vieques in a week? We are definitely adventuresome travelers (even with a toddler), not really all-inclusive, sit on the beach types. Any advice would be welcome!

There's plenty to do between those two, indeed.

Old San Juan is a charmer, with dozens upon dozens of plazas, parks, forts, churches and museums to explore. And that's not to mention the beaches, of course.

Vieques has prime snorkeling, and you must swim in the Bioluminescent Bay while you're there. And there are lots of interesting archeological sites to explore, such as Central Playa Grande, the ruins of an 1860 sugarcane mill slowly disappearing into the vegetation.

I'm planning on heading to Edinburgh for New Year's Eve. Any recommendations on what to do, especially specific to the celebration? Thanks.

Boo, never made it to Edinburgh to ring in the New Year, either. Chatters, help us out here.

Hi -- a few weeks ago I asked about whether rental car prices at MIA might come down around Xmas or other ways to save. You helpfully suggested looking into off-site locations. I plan to investigate this further, but in the meantime, I wonder whether you ar any of the chatters have actually done this. How much does a cab typically cost to get to the off-site locations? Do any of them perhaps have a shuttle? Any particular companies to recommend or avoid? Thanks!!

Ton of stuff on the Miami airport site: Here's a car rental directory and taxi rate info.

We chose the destination mainly because we were visiting a friend there, and figured that the cross-country skiing also ought to be good then. But the friend was our principal criterion for the trip.

Yes, only Good Friday involves places, including pubs, being closed in Ireland. Only issue is busier roads and higher prices for accommodation, on account of all schools being closed for Easter vacation. Fewer Irish people going overseas now at that time, so greater demand on accommodation in Ireland. Book early to reserve your place of choice. Not a good time to wing it. Otherwise, April is a perfectly good time to go and enjoy yourselves.

Thanks for the input!

How does one broach the matter of returning the armrest to it's original position in a polite way? A person next to me lifted it so we could allow the window-seat passenger to go to the bathroom. She never put it back down so she "spilled" into my seat for the last 1.5 hours. I didn't want to make her feel bad about her weight but it did make me uncomfortable.

I know, it's tough. But I would just smile and nicely say, "Do you mind if I put this back down?" Hard to answer that with no, I would think.

Sorry I was so vague. We were thinking about leaving the airport, doing something during the day, and then returning to pick up our grown son. Then we'll drive to Tuscany. I hope that helps.

Gotcha. So your son isn't seeing Rome at all. Well, you've got lots of possibilities, then! Have you been before? Are you coming back on this trip? If I had to pick one thing to do, it would be to see the Sistine Chapel, with the Coliseum as a close second. If you did the former, you could certainly occupy yourself in St. Peter's Square with much other art and activity before/after the chapel visit.

In the same storm?

Buffalo got 18 feet of snow over the entire winter, but most of it fell during one blizzard. 

I would almost suggest choosing between the two. That way, you could base yourselves in the city and do a few day trips into the countryside. If it comes down to cost, Dublin might be slightly better value against the dollar.

To the chatter asking about various ticket combos for a trip to the West Coast and Hawaii: be careful; a lot depends on your schedule. For example, if you're flying from Your Town to LA, spending a week, then flying to Hawaii for a week, going to San Francisco for a week, then back to Your Town, it shouldn't be a problem to buy separate tix. However, if for example you planned to return from Hawaii to Your Town straight through, with a stop and change planes in LA, you could have a problem. If the flight from Hawaii is delayed and you miss your connection in LA, you're out of luck if the two flights are on separate reservations, even if they're with the same airline.

Yes, that's why I said without the actual dates and destinations, difficult to say what would be best. Whenever you're flying on different airlines/tickets and connecting, you take a chance. 

Oh, it's easy to answer no -- "I'm more comfortable with the armrest up."

I suppose, but I just like to believe that people are reasonable when faced with a reasonably request!

I was once on a AA jumbo jet from ORD to Munich, and we sat at the end of the runway before takeoff for over an hour burning fuel - the pilot said that it would take less time than returning to the gate and off-loading cargo. This was a few years ago before jet fuel was so expensive. Apparently they do the final calculations as we taxi to the runway. This caused lots of passengers to miss their connections - apparently cargo is more important for revenue than passengers.

Interesting. Cargo can be more profitable than carrying passengers, so you may be on to something.

we have a flight leaving at 7 am on Saturday the 10th. What time should we get there? 5:30? (we are driving from Alexandria--ugh)

That should be fine, even with the shuttle ride to the terminal. You won't hit much traffic at that time.

Without knowing when you will travel or what cities you will do. Seattle and Portland can have cheaper sales to Hawaii because they are not hub cities for major airlines. You have direct flights n hawaiian and Alaska and on delta from Seattle. One option I would look into when pricing is say your friends are in the San Fran to San Fran visit friend, then from there to Hawaii and the return to la or Seattle for a weekend then fly home.

Thanks for the ideas. 

to the poster who has layover at Gatwick. The Gatwick express is a train that takes 30 minutes to get into Central London (directly from the airport to Victoria Station). Plenty of hotel options there. The train runs regularly (every 15-20 minutes) and costs 34GBP round trip. Certainly easy enough to do for a 24-hour layover.

I've been to Helsinki twice and Tallinn once (as a day trip from Helsinki). The architecture in each place is quite interesting. In Helsinki, there's a mix of neo-classical and Russian; Tallinn has a wonderful central square. Helsinki is pricey, and was more spread out than I expected, but there are trams and buses that make it easy to get around. I've spent 5 days there in total (15 years apart) and think 3-4 is probably sufficient. The ferry ride between Helsinki and Tallinn is pretty fast (it's also possible to transfer by helicopter) assuming the water is smooth. I'd say a couple of days in Tallinn would be enough to give a good overview. In both cities the fresh fish is excellent. Also, explore Stockmann's department store in central Helsinki; it's quite something.

Of course one of you would have an answer. Thanks!

I'd stay in London and take full advantage of the layover. The train to Gatwick leaves from Victoria Station (you can choose either the Gatwick Express or the Brighton line), so you can stay in London right near there. It's on the southern side of Buckingham Palace and near Westminster, South Kensington and Chelsea.

We went to Helsinki in August. Great time, very transit friendly (subway, streetcar, regional rail)/walkable and bike lanes everywhere. We were going to take the ferry over to Tallin/Estonia but it was cancelled-high seas. But you can make Helsinki your homebase, go over to Tallin-medieval town. We also took the overnight train to the Arctic Circle!

The reason it isn't good is because of the weather pattern. In the hills to the south it's fine...but in the city the pattern n February with the lake effect engine off by then it will snow some, then it melts, then snows again, then melts. There isn't a base there. Being near the water it's still a moderation affect on temps so it isn't as old thus it's easier to get mix precip.

If you have a seat toward the front and all of the back-sitting people used your bin, why can't you remove their bag(s) and insert your own? They would have to walk forward to get their own bags, right?

Thanks for chatting with us today. The winner of the prize is the person who participated in the torchlight procession down the ski slope in Italy. Wow. Send your name and address to and we'll get you your goody.

Until next week, happy travels!

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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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