Talk about Travel

Dec 03, 2012

Please note that Talk about Travel has now moved to 2 p.m. Mondays.
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.

Greetings. Hope you all had a wonderful weekend filled with dreams of  travel that you can now make a reality. And we are here to help!

In addition to the usual Q&A&C (conversation), we want to hear about your Proustian moments of travel and food. (For inspiration, read Sunday's Smart Mouth, in which the writer lovingly reflects on a barbecue joint in North Carolina.) The submission that moves us the most, or makes us hungry, wins a prize.

Help please as we start to look towards Spring Break. The family (2 girls under 11) wants to go someplace warm but do more than be at the beach. Where could you recommend that we could enjoy warm weather but have some adventure too?

I would recommend San Diego, which has tons to do: the zoo, Balboa Park, SeaWorld, oceanside bike trails, surfing lesson. You can take side trips to Coronado island or even Los Angeles, less than three hours away, depending on traffic.

For the East Coast, I would recommend the Tampa-S t. Petersburg area. There are lots of museums (love the Dali museum), parks, beaches and outdoor adventures. Here is a piece I wrote about Tampa.

Hey guys. I'd love some suggestions from you all regarding a 1-week vacation next year in April to the Caribbean. My husband and I love the water and have been to Bonaire and Belize several times for some spectacular diving. Can you suggest a Caribbean island that's much closer to the East Coast with good snorkeling, kayaking and maybe land adventures as well? All inclusive would be great, but not overly important. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Lots of islands would fit the bill, but I'd recommend Cozumel or Grand Cayman. Grand Cayman doesn't have many all-inclusives, but the snorkeling and beaches are very nice. Cozumel has more all-inclusives, and snorkeling is excellent. Kayaking is offered on both islands. As for land adventures, probably more choices on Cozumel. 

Good afternoon. I have a gripe. I was looking forward to traveling to the DC area for the Inauguration in Jan. As of now there are NO ROOMS available. Are hotels holding rooms until the last minute?

Many organizations and individuals book up blocks of rooms, but they could open up closer to the day-of, as people's plans change.

If the major hotels are booked, I would suggest checking out smaller properties, such as Adam's Inn B&B in Adam's Morgan. Or check hotels in surrounding areas, such as Bethesda and Arlington. Most of these towns are near Metro stations, so you can easily zip into the city.

Finally, peruse the listings on AirBnB and Craig's list. Lots of Washingtonians leave town during the event and lease their apartments to the incoming masses.

Do you have any experience with self-drive tours in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam? Obviously we'd have to rent in each country separately.

I have been to three of those four countries and, honestly, I would not get behind the wheel of a car. Their road rules and hazards (packs of mopeds, oxen, street vendors, etc.) are much different than ours. In fact, simply trying to cross the street as a pedestrian was a harrowing experience, especially in the major cities.


However, since I have not driven in Asia, I don't want to to dissuade you from a self-drive tour. Perhaps a chatter with experience can provide some insights.

In this story about Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, the author talks about renting mopeds. It might be an alternative for you.

Hi This is in response to last week's chatter asking about solo international travel. I have a couple of friends who have both gone solo on trips such as walking in Cyprus, visiting Petra & Wadi Rum in Jordan, watching gorillas in Rawanda, travelling around Morocco. They said there were a mixture of people on the trips, some couples, some single, some groups of friends, wide age range. They did say they'd recommend paying the supplement to get your own room - just so you can get some "me time" if you want it. Companies they used are and I'm looking at going on a walking trip in Italy with them next year. Expat

Thanks so much for this helpful information!

My wife and I are celebrating our 30th anniversay in May 2013 and are looking to take a trip to commemorate it. We have been all over the place (figuratively) attempting to determine a place to go and what to do (cruise? guided tour?). We have recently looked at a European tour of some sort (7-10 days) and wondered if the Trafalgar tours are worth the money/recommended in tems of experience they provide. Another idea high on our list is an Alaskan cruise and we wondered if you might have a recommendation for a cruise line and any other tips for picking an itinerary (they all look similar). We are both in our early 50's (i.e., prefer adult trip-mates) and, hold your breath, are hoping to keep the cost to around $5000 for both of us.

Some travelers like tours because they can pack in a lot of sightseeing without wasting time trying to figure out the wheres-whens-hows. Trafalgar is a well-regarded company that offers lots of different itineraries.  Tours, however, aren't typically romantic, which I'm guessing may be one of your goals. A cruise allows for more down time --you can pick and choose how much you want to sightsee. Take a look at Holland America's Alaska tours: We did one out of Vancouver to the Inside Passage, and it was quite nice, but cruises out of Seattle may cost less because airfare would be more reasonable. 

Good afternoon Travel Team! I'm heading to London for a long layover (2 days) this week. It won't be my first time in London, but it's been a while. Any must-do activities to keep on my radar?

How long since you were last there? And what kinds of things do you like to do? If you haven't been since they put up the London Eye, that is actually a fun ride to take because it gives you such a spectacular view over the city. You could also explore the new Olympic park in East London, with its iconic observation tower, the Orbit. The city definitely wanted to turn the park into a tourist attraction, so check it out. Beyond that -- well, it's London. You've been there before. You know what to do!

Royal Jordanian has a leg of a flight from Montreal to Detroit but I can't seem to find the leg on their webpage. Any ideas?

I would call the airline at 212-949-0050.  It might be a glitch in their Web reservation system or perhaps it is only a connecting flight from elsewhere.

We are looking for a Bed a Breakfast to celebrate our 25th Anniversary in May. What are the best B&B's within 100 miles of DC. We know about the Inn at Little Washington and are considering it but before we commit to spending that much we would at least like to know our options. Thanks

There's a wealth of great B&Bs and inns in the Washington region. Becky and I both love the Inn at Willow Grove in Orange, Va., which may be a bit less expensive than Little Washington but every bit as nice. It also has a stellar restaurant that's definitely less expensive. We have a Bed Check on the Ashby Inn in Paris, Va., coming up in a couple of weeks. That's another good choice. I also really like the Kent Manor Inn on Kent Island, Md. Their Sunday brunch is fantastic, and the place is the proverbial hidden gem. And the Elk Forge Inn in Elkton, Md. And let's not forget the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Keep in mind that May is high wedding season and all these places are desirable wedding venues, so pick and book soon!

Chatters, what are your favorites B&Bs/inns in the area?

My two teenage granddaughters were standing in a mile long (or so it seemed!) security line when they became aware of a staffer helping a person in a wheelchair navigate the line to their access point. No one moved aside. When he finally, with much effort, had made his way to my granddaughters' position, the girls quickly moved aside. For their courtesy, the staffer took them with him to the wheelchair access point up front and passed them through. They'd allowed plenty of time for long security lines and were dismayed at the lack of courtesy around them.

Hopefully other passengers noticed your granddaughters' courteous manners and took a hint! Travelers really must help each other during the stressful holiday season.

Hi and love your chats! Going to St. Andrews in Scotland next year for Goddaughter's graduation from St. Andrews University. Will be there for five days. Have another four or five days and was thinking of taking the train to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Any thoughts on the train and what sites, places, restaurants I should not miss? Thanks!

First, read this lovely piece by Monica Hesse on St. Andrews. It will make you even more excited to be going. More tips to be found in our Scottish whisky story and Scotland family travel story. Not sure what train thoughts you're in search of, but it looks like you can get to both Edinburgh and Glasgow via the rails.

Hello Travelers: I am considering going to England in June. I have enough AA miles that I can get a "free" round-trip ticket. However, the fees and taxes are about $675! Is it worth it to use up 60,000 miles AND have to fork over that much cash, or should I just pay for a regular ticket? Thanks!

You're right, the fees for that "free" ticket are outrageous, and so, for that matter, are these programs. But don't get me started! Miles lose value over time, so I would find a way to redeem yours soon. However, you may want to find another way to burn the miles and to pay for the ticket with money. It just might make more money sense.

About 40 years ago we drove up the East Coast from the DC area to New Brunswick, on a car-camping vacation. Upon crossing from Calais, Maine, into St. Stephen, New Brunswick, we stopped at a local bakery on the right-hand side of the road, in order to buy a snack. They had what I consider the best fresh homemade Sugar Cookies I've ever had -- soft, warm and lemony! I wonder if the bakery's still in business, and if their cookies are still as good. I'd also love to have the recipe for those cookies (most are for crispy sugar cookies, alas).

Yum! I love the mix of sugary and lemony-- a great pairing. I think you need to go on a quest to find those cookies, and bring us back a batch.

Hi Travelers, I might miss today's chat so I'm submitting my question early just in case. I would like to take my husband out to dinner to the Inn at Little Washington as a Christmas present but we cannot afford to stay the night there, in addition to the dinner. Do you or the chatters know of hotels or B&B's near the area we could go to instead of driving back to DC? Thank you!

I haven't stayed anywhere in that immediate area, but the Flint Hill Public House is pretty new and on my radar. There's also Caledonia Farm, which I know of because I talked to the owner years ago when I was working in Winchester. Also look into Hopkins Ordinary. There are other B&Bs in Washington, including Gay Street Inn and Foster Harris House, but those might be more expensive due to their proximity to the inn. If you don't mind going to Front Royal, I can recommend the Lackawanna, where I stayed for a story once.
Hope that helps!

I want to go to Philadelphia to see the new Barnes Museum. My friend will drive from Paramus NJ to meet me there.

- Should I drive myself or take a bus? Is there a bus from Bethesda?

- What else in the museum neighborhood should we see?

- Can you recommend some mid-price places for casual lunch and dinner? Any area specialties?

- Should we make it a day trip or stay overnight? If we stay, can you suggest a hotel in the area that is reasonably priced and immaculately clean (we're both germophobes).

Whether you drive or take the bus is up to you. I'd rather not worry about dealing with a car in a city, especially in a place so full of public transportation. Megabus and Greyhound as well as Amtrak, will get you there. Megabus leaves from downtown. So does Greyhound, which also has a station in Silver Spring (though not as many direct trips from there).

Here's our story from earlier this year on what to see in that neighborhood. See the restaurant recommendations here. I also really liked Sabrina's Cafe.

Just like with the car question, it's hard for us to determine whether you should make it a day trip or make it an overnight. Depends on what you want to do and how much you're willing to cram in one day. I don't like to be rushed, so I'd stay one evening. I found no faults with with the Latham Hotel.

I want to take my first vacation in far too long later this spring. I'm going to be a solo traveler, guy in my late-20s, and I like museums, walking neighborhoods, sports, and good food. However, one thing I'd really like is to go some place where I don't need to rent a car. Which of these would fit the bill the best: San Francisco, Austin, San Diego, or Phoenix? Thanks for taking my question!

I'd go for San Francisco.  But I'm sure there will be some debate about this one. 

We are thinking of going to Hawaii in March. I saw r/t non-stop prices from IAD a few months ago of $747. They are now in the $900s. Did I miss a good deal or do the prices sometimes come back down at the end of the year? Thank you.

It doesn't seem like that long ago that a good sale fare to Hawaii was less than $500 round trip. You can still get fares of around $700-$750, but you'll need to leave midweek in March, and it can't be around Easter. You can also try to book the trip in two segments: here to West Coast and then from there to Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines often has sales from various cities in California. If you do that, however, and you miss connection, you take a chance of getting penalized because the airlines will not be working together. 

if you're willing to spend more on an Alaskan cruise, I'd highly recommend a small boat. We loved our 7 day cruise with 3 days in Glacier Bay for our anniversary last summer -- the small boat can access and dock at places the regular cruise boats cannot get to. We saw amazing scenery, especially glacier, and wildlife. I would highly recommend Inner Seas Discovery cruise line.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Last year I had a business trip in Singapore. One night, I went, on my own, to a restaurant called Iggy's - supposedly one of the top 100 restaurants in the world and which only had a tasting menu. I had never eaten this way before and it was a totally different spin on a night out - there were dishes that I still remember tasting to this day (there was one serving of rice with one other ingredient whose taste made me recoil but which I can still recall perfectly). It was over $100 just for me without wine and worth it in a "do it once if you can" way. The next night, a friend in Singapore organized a trip of about eight people to East Coast lagoon Food Village, an open-air set of hawker stalls. The food there was amazing and memorable, too - just in a different way. Shrimp, crab, noodles, rice, vegetables, bread, and more - one of the best examples I've had of eating in Singapore, all as the sun went down right next to us and we entertained the parents of one attendee who had just arrived the previous night from Wisconsin. The cost for stuffing myself obscenely was about $15. I really don't know which was the better meal.

How great that you could experience two completely different sides of Singapore dining. Both sound delicious.

I'm considering booking a flight that requires a long/overnight stay in Istanbul, which is great because I've always wanted to go there. Would you consider it safe for a female traveling alone to go sightseeing?

I would travel solo in Istanbul, with the customary precautions:  Don't walk at night alone; don't wear anything valuable; hide your money;  plot out your route in advance, so you won't get lost.

If you feel more comfortable, sign up for a half-day tour, then return to some of the areas you visited for a more in-depth experience.

On a trip to Charlotte to visit family, I got it in my head that I was going to get the full southern BBQ experience. Somehow I stumbled across Red Bridges and dragged everyone out to  Shelby. On a Sunday. This being the South, everyone at Red Bridges had come right from church and were dressed far nicer than us, in our sweatshirts and jeans. No matter, we were welcomed just the same and feasted on that delicious smoked pork shoulder. I still tell people about it: the little menu, the three options (sandwich, plate, or platter) and the pig decor. Certainly one of my favorite memories from those trips to Charlotte!

Thanks for sharing your BBQ memories.

My family and I are going on a cruise for Christmas. We are cruising on Royal Caribbean out of Baltimore. What is the situation for parking? Are there alternatives at the port?

Parking at the port is $15 a day. There are  plenty of spaces.  Several hotels also offers stay-and-park packages, but that probably won't save you any money. 

Tip: After 35 years, Amtrak restarts NE service to Norfolk on Dec 12 with introductory fares to DC as low as $19 in December. Thereafter, the lowest fare will be $38. The train travels as far north as Boston, making stops in Virginia at Petersburg, Richmond, Ashland, Fredericksburg, Quantico, Woodbridge, and Alexandria and in Maryland at New Carrollton, BWI, and Baltimore.

Good to know, thanks!

I have not been able to find a guided tour of the Marche region of italy. Are you aware of any such guided tours?

A quick Google search turned up this Web site of tours in the region. It looks very nice, but I have no experience with this company. Let's ask the chatters for their input? Anybody taken a guided tour of le Marche?

Does it count more if it happened in Paris? We were badly jet-lagged upon arriving at Charles DeGaulle airport for our first visit to France last year, so went directly to our hotel in the Latin Quarter, checked in, and slept for several hours. Husband woke up first, so went exploring a bit in the immediate neighborhood, and came back with a fresh, fresh baguette from the local boulangerie, some perfectly ripe Camembert cheese, Clementines (small sweet oranges) from the produce stand next to our hotel, and several wonderful desserts for us to share (including a chocolate souffle that was out of this world!). Ooh-la-la!!! Our little picnic-in-bed was one of the best meals we've ever had, and it cost less than 20 Euros.

Yuo certainly got a noseful, and mouthful, of Paris!

That was an interesting article. Did I miss a companion piece on how to get something made if you're there visiting? I would have liked to know approximate costs, time involved, etc. Thank you.

So glad you liked the article. I'm afraid that we didn't run a sidebar with the information you ask about. But we did list the various tailors/shops mentioned in the article, and at least one of them, Burlington's of Bombay, offers, as we wrote, "24-hour bespoke service upon request."

Hello - I planned to spend the week before X-mas in the Dominican Republic. Just realized my passport expires next week, which nixed foreign travel. So, now I need to come up with a vaca in 2 weeks - I've settled on Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands. Would like feedback for this profile - single woman traveling solo, likes adventure, spas, relaxation, beaches, food, and security (want to be able to walk around to get a bite after the sun goes down). Any advice on which option is best? Gotta book tomorrow so I can leave on the 18th! Help! Thanks!

I'd opt for Puerto Rico. DR is dominated by all-inclusive resorts and most tourists just stay on campus. PR is a big island with lots of different choices re: type of vacation. San Juan is a big city, but you'd be fine walking in the tourist areas of town. 

A couple of months ago, I bought 2 tickets for my daughter to fly to Mississippi with her long-time boyfriend to meet up with some of their friends in January. Of course, now they are on a trial break-up and I'm not sure if they will travel together in January. Do you know if the major airlines would charge me a fee if I switched one of the tickets to someone else? I wouldn't be changing the flight or the number of tickets purchased. If I did try this, would it be better to talk to someone from the airline over the phone or would I have to go through Orbitz (which is how I got the tickets)?

Actually, most airlines will not allow you to change the name on a ticket (the sole exception in the U.S. is Allegiant). So, for everyone's sake, I hope your daughter and her boyfriend reconcile.

I'll be in NYC later this week (Wed-Fri) and will have have some time for fun (Wed and Fri nights). Any suggestions for bars, restaurants, and cool things to do apart from the usual Rockefeller Center Christmas stuff?

Restaurants: See this Escapes on the city's vegetarian scene.

Cool things to do: Andrea's story from this weekend on Times Square tours and her story from last year on holiday markets.

Personally, I'm a fan of Eataly, the High Line and Momofuku Milk Bar.

Based partially on advice from this chat, my brother and I decided to go to Iceland. It was an amazing trip and we enjoyed every moment from strolling through Reykjavik to roaming the Golden Circle. A standout moment was definitely eating delicious lobster soup and crusty bread in a tiny shack of a restaurant that overlooks the marina in Reykjavik. Hearing the workers shouting across the boats and watching the ships glide away with the mountain behind them was a surreal and magical moment that was enhanced by holding a steaming mug of tasty soup with big chunks of lobster. I've eaten in restaurants around the world but that is easily my favorite "foodie" moment. 

Sounds like you got more than just food on a plate, but an unforgettable experience.

It would help to know the requester's parameters for what they consider to be a good B&B. So much of it depends on personal preference: Do you want a friendly, chatty innkeeper, or do you want someone who hands you the keys to your room and leaves you alone? Do you want to interact with other guests (e.g., with a communal breakfast table) or would you prefer separate tables? Do you want lovely, secluded grounds, or do you want to be able to walk to the closest quaint town for dinner?

All too true!

As a 20-something that has been to Austin without a car, I highly recommend it. There is a bus that goes from the airport to downtown, as well as extensive buses that go everywhere, even at night. They were also cheap. I had a great time and never felt unsafe (which is important for a woman!) Great food, bars, music, and culture. Couldn't ask for more.

Thanks for the info!

The Middleton Inn is near there. I only know this because Paula Broadwell and her husband were there when the Petraeus scandal broke, but it looks really nice.


Can anyone recommend the best scube dive site(s) in Hawaii? I have been to all of the islands before (snorkeling only), but this will be the first time for my boyfriend, who is certified (I am not). In all of my past trips I have visited either 2 or 3 islands in a 2 week period. We are planning a two week trip in June, and are trying to decide which islands to include. Thanks!

From what I have heard, there are great dive sites off Kona on the Big Island (including manta ray night dives) and wrecks off  Oahu.  On Maui, you can dive the Molokini Crater, accessible by boat; Lanai has diving in its marine sanctuary.

For the best advice, however, I would call a dive shop on any of the major islands. They might have trips to several of these sites.

Does anyone have a San Francisco bed and breakfast to recommend? I need lodging for 1 night at the end of the month. Hotels are $175+, and the inns / AirBnB options I've researched are just as pricey.... I'd love to aim for $150 or below.

SF is a pricey city. I haven't been in a while, but let's ask the chatters if they have any secret B&Bs they can share. Folks?

Hello, my daughter will be studying abroad next semester. I need to buy her luggage that will transport all the clothing she will need for her 4-month stay. I think that she will need something sturdy enough to withstand the baggage handlers, yet sufficiently lightweight that it can be packed pretty full. Any suggestions for manufacturers and sizes for one or two pieces? Thank you!

If you can fit four months worth of belongings into a bag, I want to take packing lessons from you (or your daughter). My luggage of choice for the last few years has been a 21-inch TravelPro rollaboard. It's coming apart at the seams right now from overuse. But if I had to buy another bag, that would probably be the one.

I hate Christmas and unfortunately the way my schedule is I have 5 days off at the time. 4 days of traffic and feeding frenzy and one day of nothingness. Even worse is that I am stuck in Annapolis which has to be one of the most boring places in the world. Is there any place to get away. I don't have much money and was hoping to camp or camping cabin but most places seem closed. Is is possible to die of boredom in 5 days?

I feel so bad for you. Five days off around Christmas; such a shame.

Well now. Rather than feeling stuck and trying to leave town, why don't you save yourself some money and be a volunteer for the holidays? Call the Volunteer Center for Anne Arundel County to see how you can be of help during your five-day windfall. Nursing homes need visitors, soup kitchens need helpers, and even though you don't like Christmas, you'd be doing something great by helping others less fortunate enjoy theirs.

Hello! Our son is graduating from med school in May and we would like to celebrate with a family vacation. We are 4 adults who like moderate hiking, water activities (not swimming) and photography. We're looking for week-long trip, not so far away that we can't get home in a day, and not so remote that we can't be reached in an emergency. Any ideas? We're open to anything except a cruise.

I suppose you could go a lot of ways with this, but one place to consider is Deep Creek Lake. Plenty of hiking and, of course, a big lake for water activities. Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania is another place to consider.

Hello, We are going to Hawaii for 2 weeks in January for a wedding and then much needed vacation. We're spending two days in Maui and then the rest of the time in Kauai. We've found direct flight from Dulles to Honolulu. Is this the best way to go and then take short flights to the other islands? Thanks!

Yes, the interisland flights operated by Hawaiian are reasonably-priced and efficient. I just spent a month in the islands, and took one or two of these flights a week. It would be the best way to get from Oahu to Kauai.

My first time in Israel was 1999, I was 27. I met a freind for part of the trip, hung out at a hostel in the Old City for another part and spent time with family in Tel Aviv. Almost every lunch was a streetside falafel, loaded with all sorts of salad style toppings and amazing tahini sauce but the most memorable meal was a (non-kosher) seafood place called JACKO. The meal started with mezze, a dozen or so salads and olives & spreads. The with only a chalkboard to order from, my Roqufort Shrimp arrive. This was no dozen shrimp served with rice & veggies, this was a mound of a few dozen shrimp in a creamy roquefort sauce, no sides, no crabs, just shrimp and sauce. That's it, a plateful of wonderful shrimp. MMMM

That is some good eatin'.

My husband, 15-year old son and I are going to Europe in late March. We want to visit Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid and London. Is it possible? What city we should start and end with? Is the Eurotrain the best way to go between these cities? Is there other European train service? Should I purchase train tickets online or once we get there? How early should I purchase airfare? Thanks!

It's possible, but how long will you be there? If it's less than 18 days or so, I'd cut this trip back.  You could do a Eurail Pass, but you'll be on the train quite a bit. Perhaps you'd be better off taking discount airlines between some of the more distant cities. For example, you could fly to Rome and then take a flight to London on Ryanair.  Then you could take the train to Paris, and from Paris, fly to Barcelona on Vueling. Finally, you could then take the train to Madrid and fly home from there. It sounds as if you may not be world travellers, so perhaps a tour would work better. Monograms, for example, offers independent tours that include most of your target cities. And start looking at fares now. 

I can recommend Fairlea Farm B&B The hosts are so gracious and welcoming without being overbearing and the views are lovely. The breakfast was excellent, too - just wish I'd had more room in my stomach - I was still full from dinner at The Inn the previous night.

Sounds promising, thanks.

Kimpton Tweeted this morning that they have some rooms available for the inauguration. They have 8 properties in DC and 3 in VA. Also, if you see a listing for an apartment you're interested in, I'd check with the condo association, management company, etc. before signing anything/putting down a deposit because many do not permit it.

Good tips, thanks.

Domestically...San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle are all options for car free city trips. A few others are Chicago and Boston. There are also options in Europe.

All good answers. We did car-free in Seattle a few months ago. Very easy.

Rappahannock county is pretty rural. There are no hotels, chain grocery stores, chain fast foods or even stop lights. Front Royal, Warrenton and Luray are all about the same distance away from Washington, VA and have motels available.

Thanks for the info!

Since you weren't too helpful to the London traveler, here are some suggestions. Visit the National Gallery and take in a concert at St Martin In The Fields across the square. Visit the British Library and take in their exhibit on Mughal rulers. Go to the Victoria and AlbertMuseum. Or, simply walk around and see what has changed in this wonderful city since your last trip. Enjoy!

Thanks for the additional tips. But really, no need to be rude. :-) We did offer some ideas.

The Stage Deli in NYC closed last week. My almost grown sons were really saddened. A trip to New York always means a trip to the Stage. The memories of their smiles and excitement at receiving giant motzah balls or even more giant sandwiches as little boys are really special. Not really great food but really great memories.

Funny you should mention that. My parents were in NYC last week and happened to eat there on the deli's last day. They had no idea at the time. My mom's bummed they won't be able to go back for the apple strudel.

Just spent a night layover in Istanbul as a solo female, and I completely agree with Andrea's assessment. I felt as safe as one can feel in a completely new city, which is to say not 100%, but if I kept my wits about me I was comfortable. For whatever it's worth.

Wonderful to hear that you felt safe and had a great experience in Istanbul. Hope this comforts the other solo female traveler.

I loved my vacation in which I spent a week in Phoenix. But we had a car and spent most of the day time travelling away from Phoenix and then coming back to Phoenix for dinner and to sleep. There are so many interesting places around Phoenix that lack of a car would have left me pretty unsatisfied with that trip.

Another vote for Phoenix, but with a car. 

I am also interested in this topic. Of the four places the OP mentions, I have been to Phoenix, and would definitely not recommend that as a place to visit without a vehicle!

I agree. 

It was a cold and rainy night in NYC, and my brother was in town. He invited me to join him and his clients at Ninja, a restaurant one of the clients had chosen. When I arrived at the restaurant, a women greeted me behind her podium, talked to someone on her headpiece and the elevator doors opened before me. Down I went to Ninja! The room was black and I checked my coat. Out of the darkness appeared a Ninja, to lead me through the secret path to the village, to keep me safe from marauders. We wound round and round with the Ninja dropping to his Ninja pose every few feet, then bounding up on the walls watching out for the "enemies." then we stopped for the Ninja to use his secret ninja power to lower a drawbridge over a "river" before we could continue. Finally, we arrived "safely" at the village. I sat down to dinner with my brother and his business companions. It was a tasting menu, and I went safe with only 3 courses. However, one of his partners, getting into the spirit of the restaurant, ordered the 7 course tasting menu, and chose the most outrageous option for each course. I've forgotten most of it. But each time a course appeared, the Ninja would say a special Ninja prayer over it. One time it was soup i a hollowed out grapefruit with dry ice spreading mists all around the course. Another course he was given a special Ninja knife to eat with. Another course was cooked on a special Ninja moon rock. On and on it went. I think he even used his special Ninja knife to crack open the dessert. Truly, it was a 6 year old boy's dream of a restaurant. While Ninja may not have been that far away in miles from where I was living at the time, it was truly an unforgettable meal and in its own way a travel experience. Hi! YA as the Ninja would say.

We are ending the chat early today, because I must go straight to Ninja. That is hilarous!

I'm female and have visited there twice on my own and felt perfectly safe, walking at night in the old city alone. Hide your money, and realize people (mostly salespeople) will try to engage you in conversation. Just keep saying a polite 'no' and move on. It's a lovely place to travel, alone or with others.

Thanks much for the helpful advice.

It's not "classy" cuisine, but goodness I love the batter-fried artichokes at the Giant Artichoke in Castroville, California. Yummmm!!!!! (Unfortunately, I live in the East now, so haven't had them for several years).

Tasty trumps classy!

I want to take a 2-3 week fully guided group tour through Western Europe. I understand I'll probably only be able to see 1 or 2 days or so per country, but that's OK. I want an "overview" of Western Europe. I've lived and travelled in the UK (except Ireland) and also Paris, so I don't want to spend much time if any those places on this trip. I want to go sometime during the Summer, after mid-May. Can you recommend some specific guided group tours that would fit this description, or can you suggest some particular Tour Companies which would offer this kind of tour? Thanks.

You could try a company like Image Tours -- check this Web site -- which does escorted tours of multiple European countries. But I think your best bet for this kind of trip would be to consult with a travel agent, who could either find you the best tour company that performs this kind of service (depending upon which countries you want to visit), or string together a series of group tours for you in the various countries. Chatters, what do you think?

Not sure this is your domain, but I'll give it a go. I will be doing some backpacker-style traveling over the next few weeks. I like to (at least try to) stay fit while I travel and usually just pack a pair of running shoes and use my run to explore a new place. However I just injured my ankle and while I'll be fine for walking around, I won't be able to run. I'm trying to figure out other ways to stay in shape. I've looked for cheap pools or gym day passes so I can swim, use the stationary bike, or elliptical (although they don't have the benefit of allowing me to scope out a new city). Don't need to do something every day, but I can't see going a month without exercising. Any ideas for a cheap way to exercise, from you or the chatters? Thanks a ton!

I'm sure you've already thought of finding local YMCAs. Also, many towns, cities and regional parks agencies run swimming pools and gyms that don't require membership and can be visited by buying a day pass costing a few bucks. If you already belong to a fitness center, check to see whether it's a member of IHRSA; that organization's thousands of member clubs are linked in a Passport Program that obliges them to accept guests who are members of other participating clubs. Find a list of member clubs here.

I would assume paying for the ticket outright would cost you more money, right? Then how would it be NOT worth it to use miles? Money is money. Use the miles for the flight you want to take... don't take a flight you don't have to/want to just because it might be cheaper.

Thanks for the tough love.

Do you have any recommendations for "cheap" accomodations in Stockholm in July? (I realize low-cost is practically an oxymoron in Scandinavia.) I heard university dorms are sometimes rented out but can't seem to find any information online.

Here's a list of budget hotels in Stockholm.  I'm not sure about the university rentals. Chatters, do you know?

I did a study abroad year, and if the OP's daughter won't be traveling after the term is over (that is, if she can leave the bulk of her stuff somewhere while she tours around), I would recommend a large wheeled duffel bag. Any brand should withstand one round trip with the airlines, even if it's from Target or similar. Obviously this is checked baggage, but it's enough space for clothes for different seasons, multiple pairs of shoes, and whatever else she might feel the need to bring. Note that she doesn't need to take her entire wardrobe, though! It's only four months, she should pick her favorite 6-7 outfits and figure out how to mix, match and layer as necessary.

Great advice!

I've rented cars and driven in Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phuket) and Vietnam (areas outside Hanoi). I've been to Laos and Cambodia, but used hired drivers (Siem Reap) or taxis/tuk-tuks (Vientiene & Phnom Penh). Under no circumstances would I want to drive in Bangkok, Hanoi or Saigon -- too crowded and chaotic. Having my own rental car was great in northern Thailand and Phuket, where there were enough Roman-character signs to keep me from getting lost, and where I was able to visit places of my own choosing and at my own pace -- and at a lower cost that hiring a car with driver. Phuket is so resort-y that it was really easy to get around on my own. I'm not sure if I'd rent a car without a driver in northern Vietnam again -- signs were more infrequent and roads not in as good a shape as in Thailand. I'm not a good organized group traveler, so that was also a consideration in deciding to rent. If you do rent, it'd be wise to take the insurance offered by the car rental agency, for peace of mind if nothing else!

This is perfect information. Thanks!

As someone who has had to use a wheelchair on occasion (knee replacement, etc.), no one should be taking us to the front of the line. We are in a wheelchair; we are not royalty, nor are we victims.

I think it might depend on the individual. An older or ailing passenger who might have difficulties in crowds or waiting in line might need quicker service. I think it is important to support and be courteous to all travelers, on foot or in a wheelchair.

Couldn't she just mail some of her clothes to herself instead of having to haul them all?

That's a thought.

My husband travels a good bit for business, and I benefit from all the miles he earns. He is in London 6 -8 times a year and I usually manage 4 -5. As such, we have become regulars at a wonderful pub not far from our hotel. Last Thursday the landlady (owner/chef) cooked us Thanksgiving dinner. She got the recipes from Bon Appetite and Saveur. Instead of a turkey she stuffed a capon, but there were all the trimmings -- cranberry relish, green bean casserole, and Parker House rolls. The meal was delicious, but even more important was the thought and effort she put into celebrating our American holiday in London. Not to mention the looks from the other diners who looked up at the menu board, confused and jealous.

What a sweet gesture. A tip of the hat to the London chef.

IIRC, the poster was female. Check out for lots of advice for women travelling alone.


Right now there are lovely German Christmas markets in Hyde Park and on the South Bank between the Eye and Waterloo.

Good to know, thanks!

Look into downtown Oakland; there is a Marriott and a Courtyard right next to a BART station. Other option: airport hotels and then ride BART into SF for the day.

Thanks for the tip.

After taking an overnight train from Venice to Taormina, a beach town on Sicily, we were hungry and ready for breakfast. Because it's a small town, and it was very early in the morning, there was only one taxi, and a passenger ahead of us snagged it. As we waited for the taxi to return for us, we made our way to the tiny, run-down cafe in the train station. The canolli were exquisite. We spend the rest of our time on Sicily searching for similar canolli, but that little hole-in-the-wall had the best canolli on the island.

What a sweet way to pass the time.

I second the San Francisco rec. So much to do, and with BART and the Munis, lots of good public transpo too. And of course, it's one of the world's great food cities! And I live and work in DC, so this is not a city-sponsored or Chamber of Commerce ad or anything!

The chatter might try Tauck Tours. They offer several long tours that seem to cover a great deal of western Europe. We took a tour of several national parks last summer, and it is a wonderful tour company.


Google recipes for PA Dutch sugar cookies. The recipe claims to be from everyone's grandmother and passed down the generations, yet they are all pretty much the same. Look for one with buttermilk and about 3 cups of flour and add some lemon zest to see what you think.

Cross-promotion alert! We have a recipe for Soft Amish-Style Sugar Cookies in the Food section's recipe database. That sounds exactly like what the chatter is looking for.

Soft Amish-Style Sugar Cookies

My boyfriend and I are hoping to spend a weekend in late Feb/early March at a B&B somewhere not too far from DC (we have a car, but preferably 3-4 hours max). Ideally we'd like to hit up some wineries and would prefer to be able to walk to a little town for dinner so we aren't on the B&B property the whole time and don't have to worry about drivers if we split a bottle at a winery. Suggestions? Thanks!

This is a bit tricky, as most wineries are, well, kind of out in rolling green areas not close to town or even close to each other. One place that jumped to my mind is Barboursville Vineyards. The wine is top-notch, and you can dine and stay on the property.

Anyone else have an idea?

How would you go about checking the reputation of a tour company? We saw an European tour by a company called ITBC. We like the tour and price, but not so sure if the company is a reliable one. Some of our inquiries were not answered clearly. Maybe that was just the language problem. They are based in Prague, and no US address or phone number. ITBC claims that they are a member of ACK CR, JATA. But, those names mean nothing to us. So, could you help us?

It's difficult to check out tour companies that aren't based in the United States. But I'd look for how long they've been in business and ask for reviews from past customers. I think JATA is the Japan Association of Travel Agents and ACK CR is the Association of Travel Agents Czech Republic. 

Just as an FYI, the best-ever spaghetti carbonara can be found at La Traviata in Austin, Texas. It will make you believe in a higher power.

Thanks for spreading the gospel.

That chatter missed his/her true calling in life: Travel agent! I would SO book through that person!

Usually one comes up either right before or right after christmas. The reasons to look at spliting your trip to the west coast then to hawaii are (1) you can buffer your trip by spending a day or two in west coast cities and (2) you can get access to cheaper fares. Alaska and Hawaiian offer many directs to the islands from SEattle, Portland, Bay area, LA area, and San Diego. The carriers that fly from the east coast on long flights tend to fill earlier and usually at a higher price point plus they are polling a broader area for travel...thus fill faster while say a direct flight from Portland, San Jose or San Diego tends to only book those from the local area thus more empty seats, and lower pricing options.

Good insights. Thanks. 

Hi Travel Gurus! My husband and I are going to New Orleans in April and were wondering if there was some non-French quarter fun to be had? We are staying in the French Quarter but would like to venture out for at least a day.

Check out this story we ran on Treme, another neighborhood in NOLA that was the focus of an HBO series. The story also mentions a few other neighborhoods, notably Frenchmen Street in the 7th Ward and Bywater, and tells you where the best jazz (and some of the best food) in the city is to be had. And let's ask the chatters for their suggestions, too. Folks?

Almost 20 years ago my sister and I went to France for 2 weeks. We were young and didn't know any French besides quiche, croissant and vin. We figured if worse came to worse we could eat if we knew those words. When we dined, we always ate at the restaurants that let you choose one from a three course meal. We went to a very small place in Strasbourg where the wait staff didn't speak English. We had been in France for just over a week and thought we had figured out what the basics were. When I received my main dish it has some sort of hoof attached. I quickly covered it with my napkin and ordered my fallback quiche. I still to this day don't know what it was and probably don't want to know.

A wise choice. Quiche will never bite back or stampede you.

As somebody who packed one calendar year's worth of belongings into one 55L backpack, I think it really depends on your daughter's travel style. At least among my friends (I'm a recent college grad, female, love to travel), many people regretted bringing too much. Crucially, it's hard to know exactly what you'll want before you leave. Even in my case, where I had to be very very judicious, I had a few articles of clothing that I thought I wouldn't be able to live without but I didn't end up wearing once. What I've found is that it's much better to pack a bit less than necessary. When you realize what item you really need, you can buy it in your new country (and have a useful souvenir) or you can get it sent from home. Exciting to have a package from home, and you end up with the one item you need rather than the one you need plus the 10 you didn't...

I've been wanting to visit the Harriet Tubman birth house on the Eastern Shore. Could you suggest any activities to par it with? I know it's not far geographically from DC but a long drive due to what seems to be a lot of back roads. Thank you!

You might enjoy this essay I wrote about driving from here to Ocean City. It discusses many interesting places to stop along the way, including the Harriet Tubman Museum, the place I believe you are visiting. 

Might also think about if you don't want to get into a car at all, or you just don't want to rent one. I had a lovely time in the La Jolla/San Diego area, mass transit is not great but workable, but was willing to take a taxi once or twice a day. That can add up to the cost of a rental car, but I guess it's about sorting out what is really important to you.

I think bringing the passenger to the front of the line is to facilitate the employee (or contractor) escorting the passenger. They can be more efficient if they are not spending so much time waiting in the security line.

On a bit of a carpe diem whim, my husband and I decided to go hiking in Patagonia over the holidays. We land in Buenos Aires on Christmas Day and will spend 48hrs there. We are expecting a very quiet city and were wondering if there's anything we should look for- posadas, special concerts, etc. Otherwise, we will probably wander through the streets and parks, just looking around. Do you think there are any restaurants open? Any place special we should try? Also, we had the best afternoon in a Munich beer garden 3 yrs ago. It was a warm May day and we stumbled into a neighborhood bier garten, surrounded by trees and filled with communal picnic tables. Kids ran around and the people watching was fantastic! It was clearly a place where people came regularly. The waiters would swing by with platters of sausages, sauerkraut, bread, cheeses and cold cuts in a German dim sum kind of way. They'd make little tick marks on our tab as we pointed to what looked good and then dump some on our plates. The beer was delivered the same way- in liters or half-liters. Just when we were about to leave, the music and dancing started. Needless to say, we stayed there long enough to get drawn in to the group that shared our table and left that evening full, flushed from dancing and having enjoyed the best meal we had on our entire trip.

I am not sure if BA shuts down for the holiday. I would check with the tourism office or y9ur hotel for events and options.

And thanks for sharing the lovely anecdote from Munich.


I know Chris Elliot is an outspoken critic of TSA and there are many others that constantly point out the flaws of this agency (congress, media, law enforcement, other gov agencies, etc.). What I haven't come across, though, are specfics, what should be done instead? I admit I avoid flying, the airlines have made it a torture to be endured, but it is the total lack of customer service and comfort that drives me away, not the blue-shirts making me take my shoes off.

I outlined some of the changes I'd like to see in a recent post on my consumer advocacy site. But I think the time has come to write more about the solutions, instead of just focusing on the problem.

Oh noo, we are out of time.

Thanks so much for joining us and come back next week for more escapism from the daily grind.

The winner of today's Proustian experience is the Ninja diner. Email me at to claim your prize.

See ya 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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