Talk about Travel

Nov 05, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Hello, friends. If you're here, that means you successfully changed your clocks this weekend. Way to go! We hope you saw our stories this weekend on La Paz, Mexico, and the food of Florence. We hear that there's some election thing going on, which made Andrea's story about Lincoln-happy Springfield, Ill., quite timely. What's your favorite presidential site that you have visited and why? I'll give you mine: the John Adams house in Quincy, Mass. Best answer from you all gets the prize.

A few years ago my passport got very wet. Now it sometimes is not read by the automatic readers at passport control (both US and other countries). In those cases, passport control has just entered my passport number into their computers. But on my recent return to the US, the guy at Dulles passport control told me I needed to replace my passport (which does not expire for 5 years) or some foreign countries might not admit me. Any thoughts on this? What are the passport fees? Would fees be waived to replace a damaged passport? Thanks.

He's right. Although you might not have any problems coming in and out of the States, some countries are known to be very strict about damaged or mutilated passports. I had a heartbreaking case involving a traveler to South Africa a few years ago, and she was turned away at the border, even though her passport was completely valid. I would get a new passport. 

I'm going on a mini roadtrip through southwestern Virginia (think past Blacksburg) over Christmas. Do you or chatters have any suggestions of specific places to see? Thanks!

Do you like music? That area is home to the Crooked Road music heritage trail. You can also visit the Meadows of Dan, stargaze at Primland Resort and search for fairy stones at Fairy Stone State Park. If you're looking for a place to stay, consider the Francis Marion Hotel. In case anyone in your party is a "Dirty Dancing" fan, near Blacksburg is the Mountain Lake resort, where part of the movie was filmed.

Hi, everyone! I am fortunate to be facing the dilemma of how to spend 6 or 7 nights in Italy with my husband. For sentimental reasons, we want to do 3 nights in Positano. We'd also like to see Venice. Our travel agent recommends adding one day (which we can do) and checking out Florence. Her itinerary: 2 nights/Venice, 2 nights/Florence, 3 nights Positano. Does this seem like too much? We are looking for a relaxing trip, not one crammed with sights, but if Florence is a must-not-miss area, then, well, we don't want to miss it! Any advice?

You'll barely scratch the surface of Florence in one day. But if you don't have plans to go back to Italy anytime soon, then I'd say one day in Florence is better than none. There's a reason it's one of the most visited cities in the world -- it's beautiful and historic and a cradle of culture. Personally, I'd do it, even though it will make your trip a little less relaxing than you seem to want, so you need to gauge how much traveling/sightseeing you want to do. You could just as easily spend 3 nights in Venice and 3 in Positano and still have a wonderful trip.

Chatters, weigh in on this, why don't you?

My nephew is coming from Boston into Reagan National Airport at 5:30 the day before Thanksgiving. Normally, I would wait at the cell phone lot for him to call me, but some of my co-workers have said that the cell phone lots at National fill up quickly during holiday travel season. Would I be better off offering to pick up his taxi fare from the airport? Thanks.

The cell phone lot does fill up. Don't know where you are coming from, but if you track the flight closely on a site such as FlightView and tell him to wait by the curb, you may be able to time it so you can just swing through once or twice before picking him up. And if you live near a Metro line, he could jump on that and you could meet him at the station closest to your house. Taxis are always an option, but they're more expensive and there may be a line day before Thanksgiving. 

This is by far not just my favorite Presidential house, but my favorite historical house. From the gardens where we can see, feel and taste how Jefferson thought about agriculture to the views to the mechanical experimentations he made, Monticello really gives visitors a feeling for who Jefferson was.

As a graduate of U.Va., I endorse your response.

I really enjoyed Truman's Little White House in Key West, FL. Interesting to see where he actually held so many meetings while taking a break from DC!

The Jimmy Carter Historic site is the entire town of Plains, GA. It is the sweetest, cutest, most historical preserved little city. Apparently Jimmy still teaches Sunday school at the vintage shop/hotel. Adorable!

After reading your article on the NYC hotel Night, I have no idea if the author liked and would recommend the hotel, and lacked the information to determine if I would like to stay there. The travel section is small; I'm disappointed you wasted space on this article.

Sorry you felt that way, but I used my limited space to describe the scene and setting of Night and let the reader decide if this dark-ish, very stylized environment is right for them.

I personally loved it, because I appreciate artsy decor. But people who prefer a more mainstream look  might not like it.

If you have specific questions, I am happy to answer them.

Last week someone asked if it was worth the hassle to see Uluru while in Australia. You hadn't been, but thought so.i've been and it was NOT worth it. It did not change color at sunset (due to bad weather) and that made it a big, albeit impressive, rock. I say don't go unless the are other attractions in the area for you (like climbing the rock).

OK, thanks for the input. I'd be interested in hearing what that chatter decides to do.

My absolute favorite Presidential site is Warm Springs, GA. Franklin Roosevelt would go into the mineral thermal baths in Warm Springs to help with his polio. The pools are still there and serve as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. HOWEVER, a few times a year they open the pools to the public for swims. My BFF and I went two summers ago over Memorial Day and got to swim in the pools. They were completely awesome and we were (BY FAR) the youngest people there. Most of the people who were grandparent aged, loved that there were two girls in their 20s who came for the historic significance. Then after you're done at the pools you can pop over to Roosevelt's Little White House (which is where he died.) I cannot recommend a trip to Warm Springs enough, ESPECIALLY if you are an FDR fan!


Christopher, thanks for your column on airlines that can take our money in seconds, but take forever to give refunds. But you are naive when you believe Virgin Atlantic's story about the delay. The only, only, only reason they "resolved" the problem was that they had a Washington Post / National Geographic columnist in the mix. Someday you should write a column that tries to fix people's problems without any Post or National Geographic credentials. See how far that goes.

Thank you for the feedback. I think the fact that I was asking about the refund may have contributed to a speedier resolution, but I'm not at all convinced that the passenger would have never received a refund. In fact, I routinely write about consumers on my consumer advocacy blog who resolve their travel problems all by themselves without any help from me. It does happen. Not as often as it should.

What happens if I book a fare well in advance to Germany's Berlin/Tegel airport, but before my departure they close Tegel and open the new Brandenburg Airport?

As with any change in itinerary caused by the carrier/airline industry and not you, the airline will rebook you. But definitely stay on top of it. As soon as you hear that they have opened the new airport, call the airline and confirm a new ticket. As of now, Berlin is expecting a late October 2013 opening.

This airport was initially scheduled to open a year ago, and now it's not scheduled to open until October 2013. But the plan is for Tegel to close as the new airport opens, and for all flights to be rerouted to Brandenburg. 

Our favorite presidential places to visit were homes of the two Roosevelts! Teddy's home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, was slightly off-putting for the stuffed mounted wild animal heads, but his personal library -- he reportedly read at least 1 book a day -- was impressive. We've also been to FDR's home at Hyde Park, as well as Eleanor's nearby Val-Kill, & to their large rustic "cottage" on Campobello Island, Canada, made famous by Dore Schary's play (turned into a film) about FDR's coming down with polio there.

We plan to rent a home on the beach in Cape Cod this summer, but need help narrowing our search. We'd like to see the ocean and be able to walk down to the water/beach from our rental property. We'd also like to be within walking distance to restaurants, shops, etc. What areas of the Cape would you recommend?

I love Provincetown -- plenty of shopping, restaurants and things to do -- but the crowds and sometimes carnival-like atmosphere might not be for everyone. I've driven to, but haven't stayed in, Chatham, which looked like a great place to visit and more on the peaceful side. I've been keeping it in mind for a return trip.

Agree on Chatham. I spent my honeymoon there and definitely recommend it. Other favorite spots, Cape travelers? I know you're out there.

We are traveling to New York City to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our plan is to drive to Metro Park in New Jersey on the day before to park and take the train to Penn Station. Does the parking facility at Metro Park fill up? Are there alternate parking facilities we should consider? Thank you.

Metropark has about 3,500 spots, so you should be able to find one teensy, weensy spot. I also just called the main number and the employee said spots are typically available over the holiday. For alternatives, you can consider taking the train in from Trenton or catching a NY Waterways ferry. There are plenty of parking garages around the terminals. Because of Sandy, however, I would call the ferry in case there were any changes in service or  parking lot closures. 

There are thousands of spots there, so I don't think you'll have a problem. Nexus Parking Systems posts alerts when parking fills up. Trenton also allows overnight parking.  

The George Washington Birthplace Monument on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Everyone goes to Mt. Vernon, and I'd been to Kenmore, his childhood home (in Fredericksburg, VA), but didn't know about this place until I stumbled upon it during a road trip to the Northern Neck. My favorite part of it was the tour by the NPS guide -- who took great pains to point out that the house we were looking at was not the original house, but a well-intentioned effort done in the 1930s. (The original house is long gone -- you can see parts of the foundation).

Yes, I've been curious about that place. The NPS guide was one of the reasons I really liked the Adams house. Very informed.

My favorite presiential place is also about FDR - his Hyde Park, NY, home. Near the house he built his own presidential library, which he used as an ofice when staying in the house. The library is actually an engrossing FDR museum. Also, don't miss Eleanor's own house and FDR's small stone house that he planned as a relaxing getaway, but never had a chance to use.

Having lived in Siena, Italy I would recommend traveling the extra hour from Florence and going to Siena. I found Siena a much more magical place than Florence and no where like it else on earth that I've found so far....

Yes, Siena is lovely, I agree, but I still maintain that there's much more of a major nature to see in Florence.

My wife and I will be traveling to Vienna in mid-December. Other than sampling the street food at the Christmas markets are there any restaurants, holiday dishes, or other culinary treats we shouldn't miss?

If you're headed to the Kristkindlmarkt in Vienna, you have to try a Glühwein (mulled wine) and sample the Lebkuchen (ginger bread). I would also make sure you have a Sachertorte somewhere along the way. Stop into any bakery or Konditorei for the holiday treats -- there are too many to pick a favorite.

A friend and I have a trip to NYC planned for this weekend. We haven't gotten our hotel room yet (plan to priceline it) and plan to take the train in from Trenton - she lives in Philly. My question...should we still attempt to go or are we nuts? We don't have any real plans other than to hang out, walk around, etc....its really more of a "let's get away from our husbands and four year olds for a weekend."

Definitely not nuts. Go! Some of the best plans involve having no plans.

Sorry to bug folks again...I want to move to Jamaica permanently. I can work virtually anywhere, but I can't seem to get a straight answer about immigration requirements. I know I need a permit if I want a job in Jamaica, but technically, I'd be working for a U.S. non-profit organization. Any good resources out there about what I need?

Here's the State Department page for Jamaica, and here's the Jamaican embassy page. Better to get your info from them than us.

Buffalo is a great destination for presidential history buffs! I recommend the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site on Delaware Avenue downtown. Roosevelt was inaugurated in this mansion in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley at the Pan American Expo. The National Park Service runs the property and does a wonderful job telling the story. The site of the McKinley assassination in Buffalo is within a few miles and is marked too. Grover Cleveland's home is there (he was mayor of Buffalo) and Millard Fillmore was born about 30 minutes away in East Aurora -- his home is open for tours. See? There IS more to Buffalo than snow!

Cool, I had no idea.

When you get the new passport, keep it in a ziplock baggie. When I'm not en route, I keep mine in a belt under my clothes, inside the baggie. Baggie keeps it from getting sweaty, but would work equally well against weather or plumbing accidents...

A few weeks ago I decided to get an Amtrak ticket to get to my family in MA for Turkey day instead of flying. So, did it turn out to be a giant mistake? The trains will be OK by then, won't they?

I asked Amtrak, and it says its Washington to New York service has been running in both directions since Saturday. You should be fine -- unless another storm comes along. 

I need to get out of town. I'm not on the run or anything, just in dire need of sun: 3hr flight max/ not too expensive/ 3days? Please help!

Somewhere in Florida, perhaps? Miami or the Gulf Coast?

I was just in New Orleans (two hours and change from Dulles) and soaked up the toasty 80 degree temps. Once there, you can find cheap accommodations outside the main tourist hubs and can eat for a few bucks (beans, rice, beignets). Also getting around is easy by foot or streetcar.

For cheap airfare, check sale fares (for example, AirTran) to Florida. If you don't mind traveling with minimal belongings,  Spirit flies to the Caribbean and other hot destinations.  

Our family of four is traveling to London in March and are leaning toward an apartment rental. Can you recommend a neighborhood that is convenient to tourist attractions and public transportation? We are having trouble choosing between Notting Hill, Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and other neighborhoods. We don't mind being on a quiet street, as long as we are not too far off the beaten path.

Any one of those neighborhoods that you list would be a terrific location. They're all beautiful neighborhoods in Central London, close to the biggest attractions, or at least close to the tube stations that will get you to them all. I'd say I'd choose among them based on the flat you like best and/or the best rental rate that you find. 

Growing up, my parent's dragged me to many presidential places. For some reason, the only one I clearly remeber is the LBJ ranch. Maybe because it was a fully functional ranch.

As someone who lived in Italy for a few years, I'd recommend shortening your time in Venice and adding a day or two at an agriturismo in Tuscany as part of your trip to Florence. These are old farm houses that have been converted into B & B's. Venice is nice, but the town is swamped with tourists. By adding a stop in the countryside at an agriturismo (you can search them at you can guarantee yourself at least a couple days of relaxation between all the traveling. Just my two cents.

Hmm, another thought.

Hi folks, I'm going to Pittsburgh for a late Thanksgiving / early Christmas family get-together. Dinner is at 5pm on Sat,12/8. I'm looking for fun things to do downtown before dinner, after dinner (late night bars) and the next morning (brunch). I've never been, so any thoughts, ideas, etc are appreciated.

Check out the Strip District. Riding the inclines is fun, if not very time-consuming. If I ever make it back up there, I'd like to visit the Phipps Conservatory.

When I was little, every year my grandparents and I would drive from Illinois to Colorado. We usually stopped in West Branch, Iowa to visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. It is more than just a Presidential Library, but has preserved essentially a town square that you can visit the cottage where he was born, and other historic buildings. It gave me a much greater appreciation of what a well rounded man he was. And, afterwards, we stopped to have enormous cinnamon rolls, which made the whole trip even better!

Not quite the cape but the little town of Onset MA has some great rentals. It is 5 miles from the Bourne bridge so a good point to explore the cape. It is on the bay rather than the ocean but the beach is free and the town very walkable.

Visiting presidential sites is a great way to learn about the personal lives of our commanders in chief and the times they lived in. it's hard to pick a favorite, but stand outs include the home and presidential library of Harry Truman in Independence, MO. He lived quite simply in retirement; he and his wife once ventured on a road trip, just the two of them, and you get that story in their house. It's hard to imagine any former president doing that today. And I was fascinated by the Calvin Coolidge homestead, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. I hadn't known much about Coolidge except for the jokes about Silent Cal. (When he died, Dorothy Parker wondered, "How could they tell?") So it was nice to see a more human side of him and get a sense of his great devotion to his family. In this area, the Lincoln Cottage is interesting, in part because it was unfurnished when I last visited. The Lincolns moved their furniture from the White House to the "summer White House" each summer. They didn't have enough furniture to furnish two homes, so they moved theis possessions between the two residences. On the other hand, when I was once in Omaha, Nebraska on an overnight trip, I spent an hour or so driving around looking for Gerald Ford's birthplace. I finally found it -- a plaque stuck into the ground in front of where a house apparently once stood. It was the greatest disappointment of my presidential forays.

You are quite the presidential explorer! Bravo.

Does that poster seriously believe they're going to have the Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, after they cancelled the Marathon?

Stay tuned, right? It is several weeks from now.

I haven't found any official word, but I've seen unconfirmed online reports that the parade will go on. The giant balloons made it through the storm safely, and so, of course, did Santa. Since the parade began in 1924, only rubber and helium shortages during World War II prevented it from being held.

I went to Colombia in September and want to report that it was great. I had no safety issues (although I am a seasoned traveler and took precautions). I went to bogota, Villa de Leyva, Medellin, and Cartagena. Speaking Spanish is helpful, especially if you stay in cheaper places like I did where staff often do not speak English. I recommend that tourists skip Medellin (not much of interest there), unless it is a starting point to the surrounding countryside. But i loved every other place i visited and the people were wonderful. One tip: intracountry airfares may be cheaper if you wait to buy until you are in Colombia. I waited to buy my Medellin-Cartagena flight until I was in Colombia and the ticket was about half what I would have paid if I got it in the USA. And although I did not think Medellin was worth a visit, it did give me a great story. I took an all-day trip outside the city to Guatape. Most people on the trip were Colombians and I understood why when in the morning the guide handed out the souvenirs--shot glasses, which were followed by passing the Aguacaliente (licorice-flavored liquor). Let's just say a good time was had by all!

Sounds like a great trip. For another opinion about Medellin, take a look at this story we ran a couple of years ago. 

good morning do you have any suggestions for london paris tours or tour packages?

There are a gazillion tours to London and Paris. Can you be more specific? Are you looking for package tours with air and hotel? Group or independent? Walking or driving? Culture or active?

Best to do a little research online to figure out what you want to see and do, then find a company that matches your  expectations.

We have a family wedding coming up next July in Los Angeles, and were planning to fly out of Philadelphia for geographic reasons, a central starting point. Currently VX has a great fare as low as $328 rt (plus luggage fees), and I would like to jump on this, but am concerned that the airline may not be around come next summer based on articles on its financial results. Do you have any insights on how long VS would be willing to stay afloat? I would have thought Frontier would be long gone by now, but they kick kicking. What happens to my fares (figure 8 people) if they go out of business? Thanks

No one knows the future, but if I were a bettin' man, I'd say Virgin America will be around next year. It can take a long time for an airline to die. And I'm not entirely convinced the situation is that bad at Virgin America.

And let me add that flying on Virgin America to Los Angeles is a fairly nice experience. Individual entertainment centers and better-than-average, fairly priced food that you can order at will via a credit card swipe. 

I missed the chat last week but wanted to give some tips to the person looking at Malaga/Costa del Sol. Definitely go! With just 2 days, I'd just stay in town and hit the beach one day (La Malagueta, dark sand and great water right near the historical center of town). You should try tinto de verano (mix of wine and carbonated lemonade peculiar to southern Spain) and fried fish, and the chiringuitos on the beach should be open by then even though it's not really beach weather for the locals yet. On the other day, I'd wander the many monuments and interesting things in the city center -- there's a cathedral, a Moorish fort (the Gibralfaro), a Roman amphitheater, the plaza de toros, the market, a Picasso museum (very small), and a ton of little local-culture museums like the museo del vino, a museum on holy week, and more. You can find info at this Web site. FYI, the train station and modern city center is a bit far from the touristy areas, about 20-30 minutes on foot. You can split the difference and stay in one of the hotels on the dry river, using the #11 bus to get to La Malagueta if you're not into walking (I think the Paseo de Reding stop puts you about a block from the beach). And heads up that there's a large-ish half marathon in early April, I think the 7th, so you may want to book hotels early to get good rates.

Thanks for the input. If the Costa del Sol-bound traveler is with us today, here's a wealth of information for you!

Hi All, For a while now I've wanted to head over to Germany, Austria, or Switzerland to visit their outdoor Christmas markets. Sadly, once again, it doesn't look like I'll make it before that holiday but I do have some use-or-lose federal leave that has left me wondering if it would still be a good trip for New Year's. Is heading to those parts of the continent good bets around that time, both economically and weather-wise? If so, are there any destinations you'd recommend for a mid-Europe mid-winter sejour? Thanks!

If you like snow and crisp, cold weather, by all means head on over! That part of Europe, if you ask me, is beautiful any time of year, especially the Alpine areas, and if you go at the New Year and after, you may miss the huge crowds of other seasons. You could head to Nuremberg and then down to Bavaria -- Munich and the moutain towns like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Oberammergau, etc.  Or do Innsbruck and Salzburg in Austria. No place in Europe is cheap, so don't expect great bargains, although off-season winter prices will be a bit less than they would be in high season. Bundle up warm and have a great time!

Hi Team - What are the odds we will see any relief in airfare pricing or a price war over then next several months. I know airlines are reducing capacity to gin up demand but the prices are so high that my family is thinking of skipping several planned trips. Is this the new normal? Wouldn't opening up capacity a little and easing the pricing increase demand? Thanks.

Sorry to say that I think it is the new normal. As airlines merge, there are fewer flights to fewer destinations. In recent years, many airlines, including Continental and Northwest, have ceased to exist as separate entities. Fewer airlines, fewer flights. Opening up capacity doesn't seem to increase profits. Filling every plane to the brim and charging for everything from baggage to seat assignments seems to be a better strategy. 

With all the news about the poor service being provided by the airlines, I want to praise Hawaiian airlines for providing outstanding services over the years. They have been serving free meals and recently upgraded the menu for flights to Hawaii, providing strips of chicken breast on rice with cooked vegetables, a fresh tossed salad with italian dressing, chocolate cake and a cup of Wisconsin water. They also included free wine with the food. And this is in COACH not first class! If you fly 20,000 miles with them annually, you can join their special frequent club which allows 2 pieces of free luggage for each flight. Since Hawaiian has expanded their routes both nationally (New York) and internationally (Japan), it doesn't take long for local residents to meet that requirement. Their fares are usually the cheapest too. The attendants are top notch in being helpful and courteous to the passengers. The other airlines could take a few lessons from their book.

I'm going to second that. I've spent the better part of the last month flying on Hawaiian, and it's one of my favorite airlines. (In fact, I'm about to board a flight from Kahului to Lihue later this morning.) Normally, airlines don't give a second thought to their regional flights, but Hawaiian's island-hoppers are more than up to standards.

you have to get the sandwich...primanti

Go ice skating at the PPG Plaza outdoor rink. Visit the Andy Warhol Museum, Heinz History Center, or the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. For drinks, try the bards along Carson Street in the South Side for a younger vibe or the theater district for a more adult feel. I am also a huge fan (and former resident) of the Shadyside neighborhood for both dinner and some bar hopping. Go to brunch at the Grand Concourse in Station Square.

Due to a change in my work schedule, this will be my last live travel chat for a while (I have been involved for years and will, of course, keep up with the chat after working hours). As a last real-time question, I would like to know which you and the chatters feel is a better way to 'recharge.' Do you prefer long, well-planned vacations using much of your accrued time at once, or do you feel short one or two night getaways are the best way to chill? Thanks for keeping my Monday afternoons occupied, from the old 2pm start, to the noon start, and back to the 2pm chat time!

So sorry to hear you'll be leaving us, live-chat-wise! We appreciate the presence of each and every chatter every week, and look forward to your questions and comments each week. I'm sorry that we won't have the benefit of yours any longer, but we're glad to hear that you've been such a loyal chatter! We'll miss you!

As to your question about long vs. short vacations, as someone who's never been able to take more than a week at a time, I sure would love the luxury of a long,  well-planned two-week vacation away from the office. But I also find that even a quick two-day escape into the countryside from Washington always refreshes me and is a great pick-me-up. If that's all you can afford, it works, trust me!

Let's see what the chatters -- and the rest of the Travel crew -- think. Chime in, folks!

Sorry you can't join us live, but feel free to chime in early! I usually create the next week's chat immediately after we close the current one, so you have plenty of time to ask questions or comment in advance. 

As to your question, I don't think it has to be either/or. I take both types of vacations. But for a true recharge, long trips are the best. I was away for 9 days last month in the Pacific Northwest. Felt great when I got back. Still, as Zofia said, a quick getaway can be just as refreshing.

Thanks for the kind words. And keep asking questions! I like the short getaways. The best thing I ever did was to save my pennies and  buy a sugar shack at the beach -- spend almost every weekend there, even in winter. 

Reading Andrea Sachs' story on Springfield, IL, made me wonder where she is from, since she used the word "bubbler" to refer to a water fountain (at least I think that's what she meant!). I also wondered when she was born, since she said she started her Lincoln journey in 1843. Reading the story made me want to get on the next plane to Springfield.


Andrea says: When I wrote it, I was channeling a Midwestern office worker who time travels to the 1800s. But in reality, I am a modern-day New Englander.

Just proves the point that no matter your background (real or imagined), you will connect with Lincoln's Springfield!


The marathon and the parade are completely different events. The marathon course starts in Staten Island, where they are still finding bodies, and goes through Queens, which was also ravaged by the storm. The parade runs through Manhattan only, and in a part of the borough that was not seriously affected by the storm. I can't imagine they will cancel the parade.

With the pending Sandy I decided to get out of town and see a friend of mine in Nashville last minute, so I made no plans for what to see and what to do other than listen to some music and eat some good BBQ. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that Andrew Jackson's home was just outside Nashville, so we visited the mansion and the grounds which was very beautiful and well preserved. It was unbelievable to hear that the house was almost sold (and probably demolished) when one of Jackson's heirs was running out of money years later, and he put the house on the market. Fortunately Ladies Hermitage Association bought the place and preserved it to its original condition. It was very interesting to see the house as it was in its heyday, and walk through what it felt like to be a guest or a family member in the house. According to the website, Hermitage is the most authentically preserved early presidential home site, and having seen a couple of them before I was amazed at the authenticity and learn about our 7th president and the period - he kept newspapers bound, and they were still in his reading room, which made it feel like he was going to walk in any minute. I highly recommend it to anyone in the area, the people are very informative and friendly, and it is a gem for anyone interested in the early part of our history. The gardens are also very pretty, so I would think that families would enjoy the visit. p.s. when my flight back got canceled, I rented a car to see the Bourbon Trail in KY which was a different treat all in all, and I can't wait to go back and see more of it. From now on, my goal is to get out of town without a plan whenever there is a storm in the horizon!

My 85 year old aunt would like a several day getaway at a hotel/resort where she can lounge and be waited on. It would have to be a place that's around a 4 hour drive from DC (I would take her, drop her off, and go back to get her); have dining options on site or nearby; offer a pleasant atmosphere; and not mind an elderly woman sitting in its lobby or lounges. My aunt is mobile but can't walk very long or strenuous distances. I was thinking of possibly Williamsburg or the Homestead but would love some other suggestions. Thanks!

Those are both good ideas. Others: the Omni Bedford Springs, the Hotel Hershey and the Inn at Montchannin Village.

My boyfriend and I are going on vacation to the Dominican Republic this winter. We're staying at an all inclusive, which will be a first for both of us - any advice on what to bring, what to expect, how to tip, etc? I guess ideally I'm looking for "All Inclusives 101" or something similar . . .

This seems to be one of our most popular questions! DR has lots of all-inclusives at all price points. I stayed at Majestic Elegance last year, and it was fine -- food was a bit better than typical all-inclusive food and beach was very nice. If you're looking for something more upscale, Casa De Campo near La Romana is nice. I'd also take a look at Iberostar Grand Bavaro, the various Bahia Principe properties and  Excellence Punta Cana

We are planning a trip to Costa Rica in February and were not sure if we should buy our tickets now or wait until it gets closer. Do you see the prices getting lower and do they normally offer more flights to Costa Rica if the shorter flights get full?

Airlines don't offer more flights when seats fill. Prices just go up. Don't wait. Track the prices now, figure out the going rate and buy as soon as you see them trending either down or up. I'd expect to pay $450 to $500 to San Jose for flights with good connections. 

The best trips may involve no plans, but make sure the train line you want to take will be operational (not all of the NJ-NYC trains are up, according to friends that live near by) and hotel rooms have been difficult to come by in the NYC area - a friend of mine has a couch surfer this week because there were no hotels in a 30 mile radius to be found. So no plans may not be be the best for NYC this weekend...

That's true.

Sorry, I would lengthen it. A lot to see plus you need time to wander without a map and wander totally lost through the piazzas and narrow walkways. You will always find your way back.

Loved the story on how to really enjoy Florence food. My husband and I are going to Florence (and Tuscany and Rome) next year, and I really want to take advantage of enjoying good quality Italian food. I'll definitely take in the advice of the article, but I did have one question: What are the best foods to eat and places to eat at in Florence if you're on a budget? Will the ones mentioned in the article put a hole in my wallet, or can I still enjoy myself at those places without blowing my budget? I want to be able to have a few meals where we splurge, but to do that, we have to be careful about the rest of our meals and how much we spend. Thanks! (I have heard to avoid any restaurant that touts English menus - overpriced and not very good!)

Most of the places mentioned in the article, especially in the first half, are located in the Central Market, which is a large marketplace with stalls in the center of the city. Think Eastern Market here, or Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. You can eat at many of the stalls, but it's not fine sit-down dining, and it would definitely be well-suited to someone on a budget. The other places, like Coquinarius, are also modestly priced -- Coquinarius is basically a wine bar that serves food, so you're not shelling out huge sums on lunch or dinner. Also be aware of the Italian tradition of aperitivo -- it's basically like our happy hour, only with lots and lots of food. Hotels and other bars will often put out a major spread in the late afternoon, when people drop in for a drink and conversation -- and lots of snacking, essentially for the price of your drink. Sometimes, if you're so inclined, you can make an entire meal of it and skip dinner altogether! 

My husband are looking to do a small group trip (4-6 people) to SE Asia next year, which would consist of hopping around to at least 3 destinations over the trip (places like Vietnam, Singapore, Japan). We've never done a trip of this magnitude. Where do we start? Is 2 weeks enough for a trip like this? Is it usually better to go thru a travel agent or one of those prepackaged touring places? Or do you recommend us planning it our ourselves? We would like to do a mix of culture/sight seeing and maybe allow a couple days of relaxation too. Thank you!

It really depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it. You can make it easy and have a travel operator organize the whole trip, from flights to hotels to tours, but then you lose some of your independence. Or you can book the flights, then get assistance from a tour operator or the tourism office for day tours, short outings and other smaller details, such as train passes. 

For Asia, planning the trip by yourself can be a challenge because of language differences and the time difference. But I would start with sketching out an itinerary (where to go, how many nights per city), then figuring out whether you'd be more comfortable having an expert make the plans or booking it yourself. 

Finally, I think you might be packing too many places into two weeks. You don't want to give any of these amazing places short shrift. I would spend the entire time in Japan, or do Vietnam and Cambodia, or Singapore and Malaysia.

I would like to take my mother to CA. She has never been and fares to LAX are always reasonable. I'd like a classic CA locale and am thinking Sata Barbara. Not sure if I should try to drive from LAX or take a 45 minutes flight to SB. Should I brave to LA traffic and just drive w/ possible nice scenery on the way? Any other areasof CA that would be relazing & beautiful? Just don't want massive traffic, enough of that here.

Santa Barbara is one of my favorite California destinations, and far removed from the traffic of LA. Flying into LAX is no problem, but I'd recommend avoiding rush hour, because the 405 can be a parking lot, and the last thing you want, coming off a four hour flight, is to sit in a rental car that isn't moving. For something more remote, try Palm Springs. I also like San Diego, but you also have traffic issues there.

That does it for us this afternoon. Thanks for casting your ballots for your favorite presidential sites. I've got a bunch more on my list of places to visit now. The winner of the prize is the chatter who recommended Warm Springs. Please send your name and mailing address to

Have a great rest of the week, everyone. We'll see you next Monday!

In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the acting editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
Jane Touzalin
Jane Touzalin is acting deputy Travel editor.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column, clearing the way through the fog of consumer travel issues. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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