Talk about Travel: Language barriers, compression socks and more

Feb 10, 2014

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Good aftenoon, chatters! It's chilly (again) out there today, so I hope you're all keeping warm. We'll try to divert you from the cold with a lively discussion about your various plans and dreams for travel. I hope you all found Andrea's Denver pot tourism story this weekend as much fun as I did. And Tom's Postcard from San Francisco made me hungry! I also thought Chris Elliott had some great tips in his Navigator column for dealing with language barriers when you run into problems abroad. Which makes me want to ask you: Tell me your best story about overcoming a language barrier while traveling. Here's mine:

I was late for an appointment at the U.S. Embassy  and running across a cobblestoned square in Sofia, Bulgaria, when snap! The heel of my boot broke clean off. There I was, limping around with a heelless boot and not a word of Bulgarian to my name. I went up to a couple standing on a corner and pointed at my foot, then at the boot heel I was holding, whereupon they bundled me into their car and drove me to the nearest cobbler shop, which was packed with people waiting for repairs. But once again, my pantomime got me to the front of the line and a quick while-you-waite repair -- and I was only about 15 minutes late for my appointment! 

Funniest/smartest/saddest, etc., story wins a prize.

Now for your questions!

Hi, My fiance and I are planning a honeymoon in British Columbia for the first week of July. We are arriving early on a Monday and leaving on a Saturday. Should we split our time between Vancouver and Victoria, or should we spend most of our time in Victoria? Thanks!

You could definitely split your time between the two, but you could also easily spend the entire week in one place or the other, with excursions and day trips from each. They're both vibrant places. Vancouver is obviously a much bigger urban setting, Victoria is more quaint and charming. To answer, yes, you might like to get a taste of each. Vancouver Island is stunning, so if you're in Victoria for a few days, spend at least one driving around, stopping in the small towns along the water and visiting farms or wineries. Since it's your honeymoon, splurge on a meal to remember at Sooke Harbour House. It's about 50 minutes from Victoria. 

After a couple of very pleasant experiences renting apartments in Paris last year from an agency, I would like to do the same thing in Amsterdam instead of having to deal directly with the occasionally crazed owners you can encounter doing vrbo rentals. Any experience with such a company operating in Amsterdam?

We don't personally, but it's a good one to throw out to the chatters? Anybody know of such an agency in Amsterdam?

The week of June 21, our family of 12 (6 adults, 6 children (ages 1 to 18) would like to travel within 4 hour radius of Alexandria, VA. We are seeking a location (either a resort or a house rental) that would have activities for the children and also be somewhat warm for our one week vacation! Thank you for your ideas.

I'm partial to the beach, and you can get to several within four hours, including Bethany Beach or Fenwick Island in Delaware and Ocean City, Md. Bethany and Fenwick are quieter and  more family oriented, while Ocean City has more activities. With a group that large, it makes sense to rent a house or a couple of condos. You can go through VRBO or Homeaway or through a local rental agency. You can get a list of agencies via the area chambers of commerce. 

My husband and I will be taking a 2-week driving vacation in late April beginning at the Shenandoah National Park and then along the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We are looking for interesting places to stay (rather than chain hotels) and interesting or offbeat things to see within 20 minutes of the parkway. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Here's a great piece on the Blue Ridge Parkway that we did in honor of its 75th anniversary in 2010. It describes lots of places to stop, eat and stay (be sure to take a look at the details box),inlcuding Mt. Airy, N.C., (TV star Andy Griffith's hometown), the historic Brinegar Cabin, and Blowing Rock, N.C.  Chatters, what are your favorite stops on the Parkway? 

My husband and I would like to travel with our grandson (7yrs.) on Skyline Drive through VA and into NC... We would rent cabins along the way... He would like Luray Caverns, fishing, and just being outdoors... Where should we stop along the way...

Just to make sure we're on the same page, Skyline Drive is only in Virginia in Shenandoah National Park. It does not go into North Carolina. Did you mean the Blue Ridge Parkway? If so, see Zofia's answer about that. On Skyline Drive, you could stop over at the Skyland Resort. The drive is bookended by Front Royal (good area for fishing, kayaking, river sports) and Rockfish Gap, which isn't too far from Wintergreen Resort, a nice place to spend a day or two.

Traveling in London England, my husband and I ordered martinis. When served we knew there was no gin in the drink. The server told us we had to ask for a gin martini or we would receive only an iced dry vermouth. Of course the drinks were replaced at no extra charge with plenty of laughs all around. The usual pre-trip study of foreign customs did not reveal this one..Who knew?

I know! We had a similar experience recently. Nowadays they think martinis are those sweet drinks made with flavored vodka! My husband wants his dry gin martini. And to think that gin was invented in England.

We will be marrying next October in the Caribbean where we both grew up. Our idea for the Honeymoon trip is a place where we can relax, a place with character where we can do sightseeing when we want to, a place where we haven't been before. We do like the outdoors, hot springs, food and unique cultures. We are not into big cities or shopping, and a beach is optional. I personally would love to go to Morocco or Japan, but my partner is not very enthusiastic about a 10+ hour flight. I'm guessing that  central and South America may be the best answer, but we've been to many places in SA (Brazil, Peru, and Argentina), and we have visited Mexico & Costa Rica multiple times, so that's out. Any suggestions for where we can go?

I "heart" Morrocco and think it's the perfect honeymoon spot, with its romantic casbahs surrounded by almond and date trees, mountains and desert, ocean and white-as-a-wedding-dress architecture. If you fly nonstop from NY, flight time is less than eight hours.

For something a bit closer, you might consider Cuba (though you will have to go with a certified tour group) or Ecuador, where you can mix city sights (Quito) with nature (Galapagos Islands), or Colombia, which oozes culture and intrigue.

Also an Olympics story - During the Salt Lake City olympics 12 years ago, the security procedures sometimes resulted in unexpected pileups - such as when my friend and I (and dozens of others) were leaving a restaurant and the Lithuanian olympic team (and dozens of others) was coming in, and we all wound up smushed against each other in a lobby when everything gridlocked for a moment. I don't know Lithuanian, but I do know Latvian, and told them so - whereupon a few of the team members and I started exchanging the few phrases we knew of each others' languages. In addition to "hi" and "thank you" and "good luck", some of the oddball phrases we had picked up in the past and shared while shoved up against each other were "Brother nation!" "Sweet dreams," "So passes the glory of the world," and my favorite - the team's coach called out "Your mother has the head of a horse," then quickly added that no, no, he didn't mean it. Then the scrum broke, and we went on our separate ways.

Funny! Are you the same Latvia person who wrote in a couple of weeks ago? ;-)

We just booked a family trip (includes a 3rd grader and 2 toddlers) to a resort near Playa del Carmen. Not sure if we should rent a car for the week from the Cancun airport. The internet opinions on this issue are mixed. We don't plan on traveling too much out of the resort except to see Tulum and Xcaret; however, just the cost of the shuttle bus to/from the airport is about the same as a weekly rental of a car. We are not sure of the hassles of driving in Mexico (police stops, corrupt rental car companies, taxis are cheap anyway). Plus, we don't speak Spanish. Any advice on this topic?

The main roads in this area of Mexico are well-paved and driving is not difficult.  Major car rental companies operate out of Cancun airport.  But taxis are relatively cheap. If you do decide to rent a car, don't speed and don't have even one alcoholic beverage before getting behind the wheel.  

When I was 13 and my sister 7 (quite some time ago), my parents took us to Spain over winter break. My sister developed what must have been the flu on the way over, and when we got to Seville, our first stop, she became quite ill with a high fever. We were ensconced in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, quite luxurious even then, but, due to the dollar/peso rate, affordable for middle class Americans. My parents asked the hotel for a doctor; the first one who came, a fussy Spaniard who spoke little English, said we should not move my sister for at least two weeks--longer than the time we were going to be in Spain. My father then got the idea to call the American Air Force base to see if they had an English speaking doctor to recommend. A charming man came who spoke perfect, if accented, English, and prescribed antibiotics and said we could certainly move my sister in a day. As he was packing up his bag, my father chatted with him and asked where he had done his medical training. To everyone shock, he said he studied "in jail." "Jail?" my father asked. "Oh yes," he replied, he was in jail for five years. At that point my father said "Jail?" in Spanish. The doctor was shocked: "oh no, not that. I studied in Jail University in New Haven Connecticut!"

Juck-juck -- that is actually hilarious. Thanks for a good laugh!

I'm getting married this Labor Day weekend in Miami, and we just decided to go ahead and plan a short honeymoon for the week after. Since we'll only have about 5 days, we'd like someplace: with good weather in early September, relatively easy to get to, busy enough to occupy ourselves without taking a lot of side trips, that has great restaurants, and is somewhat affordable. We were thinking something like Vancouver. Any other ideas? Thank you!

Sure, a few -- San Francisco, New Orleans, Seattle, Portland (Maine or Oregon!), Montreal, Charleston. Not sure what you're idea of "affordable" is, but I think all those can be accomplished on a reasonable budget. And, yes, Vancouver is a good idea too.

At a gelateria in Naples, I pointed to the container with what looked to me like vanilla gelato, chocolate syrup and chopped hazelnuts. The server gave me a questioning look, like "are you sure?" I nodded "yes," she scooped it into a cone. After leaving the gelateria happily with my dessert, I took a bite and immediately knew why she was hesitant to serve me what I had pointed to. My gelato turned out to be a really thick, really rich whipped cream topping. After that, I stuck with fruit-flavored gelato the rest of my trip.

Well whipped cream is delicious!

Hi Team...great articles this past weekend, but wouldn't it have been cool instead to have Tom's Postcard be from Denver and Colorado relating about the best places to go when the munchies set in as a tie-in with your Denver tourism article?

Ha-ha. Didn't think of that.

Nope, that is a different Latvian than the one who writes in regularly. :-) One of my "language barrier" issues has to do with poor menu translation. When I was in 7th grade, my family lived in Germany for the year. On a visit to Luxembourg, we ate at a restaurant where I ordered a "chicken patty" for dinner. The dish turned out to be a phyllo dough basket with a warm chicken sauce/salad in it. It was decent (of course, now I'd probably love it), but at the time I was a picky 13yr old and had been expecting a chicken sandwich.

I know -- foreign menus are so poorly translated. Especially in eastern Europe. :-)

We were in st maarten one day on our cruise. We got this really awesome cab driver who liked to talk. He was great. So we are in the cab and there is some traffic. He needs to go to the bathroom. So he tells my husband to get in the front and drive while he finds somewhere to go. Good fun.

I hope your husband didn't leave him in the can!

My family of four (kids 5 & 8) is driving to Montreal and Quebec City this summer. Our first night we are staying at a hotel with pool in Rochester, NY, and then we will stay 3 nights in Montreal and 3 nights in Quebec City. We have 2 or 3 nights before we have to be back home to the DC area and are looking for recommendations on where to stop on the way home. Thanks for your help!

Maybe Saratoga Springs? Attractions include Saratoga National Historical Park, a train ride, children's museum and more. Other ideas?

Through a miscalculation on my part, I ended up in the Moldovan countryside once with limited money and no way back to the capital and the airport for my imminent flight. I also learned that my Russian was useless in the countryside, as people only spoke Moldovan. Thank goodness for Lonely Planet's emergency language guide! Repeating "bus" in Moldovan and running through the numbers, I learned that if I waited under a specific tree, (in the company of some cows) at 5 pm a bus would come. And it did!


Hello! My husband and I will be spending about 4 days in Cape Town and 4 days in Knysna, South Africa at the beginning of March. Two questions -- is a tour of Robben Island prison a must-do? Also, any great restaurant recommendations in either city? Thanks!

Yes, take the tour, which will be especially moving after the recent death of Mandela.

When I was in Cape Town, I had an amazing dining experience at Pollsmoor Prison, a short cab ride outside the city. As part of a work training program, the inmates learn restaurant skills, practicing on you the diner. Our server was delightful (though I was very tempted to ask him what he was in for), and the food was good-- and cheap.

Other recommendations: The Round House on Table Mountain, the Codfather (that's not a type-o!), Beluga and Tokara, set in a wine estate.

Hi - I've seen several comments about Latvia in the past that weren't mine, but I am the reader who wrote a few weeks ago about the changes I've seen over time in Latvia. (I never claimed my prize because I've "won" a couple of times - but I like chatting, not emptying out your prize closet.)

Aha! Well, it appears that we have quite the Latvian contingent among our chatters. Thanks for the enlightenment, and please keep chatting -- and claiming your prizes if you win!

Husband and I were on our first trip to France, me equipped with one year of college French, he with, well, "s'il vous plait," and "bonjour." As the days went on more of my French came back to me, thankfully. We were in St. Malo after a day at Mont St. Michel, walking down the main drag looking for a place to have dinner. We'd rejected a few, and stopped at a promising looking place, when an older man smoking a cigarette told us, in French, that the restaurant was very good. We decided to take his word for it, and went it. As we were dining we could see that he and his buddies were hanging out in the bar - they were obviously regulars. After dinner, two snifters of Calvados that we hadn't ordered showed up, they were from our new friend. We went to thank him afterwards, and were invited to join him and his friends at the hotel bar across the street, where we chatted for a couple of hours. None of them spoke any English, but my meager French and a lot of pantomime kept us going (and translating to my husband!). The most touching moment was when he told us how American G.I.s had saved his life as a child after the Normandy invasion (St. Malo was leveled pre-invasion to soften up the coast) by giving him their rations, because he and his family were starving. He told us that the people of the area are still incredibly indebted to Americans for their actions during and after the war. It was absolutely the most moving experience I've had on any trip, and for my husband, whose father landed at Normandy!

So touching -- merci beaucoup!

Hi! I'm looking at flights to either Berlin, Hamburg, or Frankfurt for in July for an event in Hamburg. I'd be leaving on a Wednesday and returning on a Monday, so it would be a quick trip. Do you have any tips about getting the shortest and most cost effective flights? Since it is such a quick trip, I'm trying to avoid a long layover in Istanbul (which would otherwise be really fun), but direct flights are pretty expensive and even layovers tend to be rather long and inconvenient. Also, when would you recommend I purchase a ticket? I've been monitoring prices for a while and they haven't changed much, so I wonder when I should just pick the best option available. Thank you!!

If you can get to New York, Air Berlin and Jet Airways have good fares to Berlin and Hamburg. Frankfurt is too far away from Hamburg. Since you need specific dates, I'd buy sooner rather than later. 

On a trip in Thailand a few years ago we were in a rental car in the area around the River Kwai, trying to find our hotel. It's a small retreat center, and outside of town. The address as written in English on our reservation had a typo, so while we had great MapQuest directions printed out, they took us to a house, and the homeowners while friendly, were not interested in trying to figure out where we were supposed to be. After hours of driving around, people running a kiosk where we stopped for some water looked at our reservation. The address in Thai was no where near where our little map showed, but they knew where it was, so they jumped in their car and led us straight to the hotel.

Aren't people nice and helpful when you don't speak the lingo?

a few years ago, my husband and I were staying in Carmona, Spain, a lovely fortified town near Seville. We'd decided to go out to dinner to a restaurant on the town square that had been recommended by the staff at our hotel. We couldn't miss it, they said - just turn at the church. Carmona is a medieval town with tall stone buildings, very narrow streets, no street signs - and every other building seemed to be a church. We got hopelessly lost and finally realized we were probably walking away from the center, not toward it. The streets were pretty deserted, but, luckily, a man was walking toward us. I asked him in my best high school Spanish for directions to the restaurant. He looked at me very quizzically; I repeated my question, thinking that I didn't think my Spanish was all that bad, but I got the same response. Just as I was trying to figure out how else to phrase it, , woman came up to us and said (in English) - oh, he can't speak or hear! She gave us the directions (totally opposite from the way we were walking) and we were able to enjoy a great meal. We liked the restaurant so much that we went back another night, managing to find it without getting totally lost.


Well, it looks like we might get another winter storm Wednesday into Thursday -- just in time for my planned vacation to Italy. I'm scheduled to fly DCA-JFK Thursday around noon, and fly out of JFK that evening at 5:30 (on Aer Lingus, through Dublin, then on to Rome). If you were me, would you start making alternate plans now (like taking a train to NY instead of flying), or wait? At what point would you spring into action and what, if anything, would you do, or be ready to do? Thanks!

If the airline eases up its change regulations, you could try to get out before the storm hits. So check the carrier's Web site for updates.

If the weather does look bad, I would suggest trying to arrive in NY the night before and stay at a nearby hotel, to give yourself a cushion.

I wouldn't make any changes yet, but I would have a back-up plan ready to roll.

What about Portsmouth, NH and the beaches (Rye, Hampton Beach for some New England fun. Saratoga is nice too!

Hey folks, the German Christmas Markets are somewhere on my wives to do list, and I was hoping to start thinking about them now. The thing is we've never been to Germany either; and I was wondering if it made sense to focus on the "must-see" cities with markets or focus in on the must-see markets. Can you do multicity market tours, and if so, which are cites to focus on. Thanks

You can definitely do a multicity tour. The Christmas markets are incredibly popular and any number of operators, including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Tauck and Viking (these last two are river cruises) and dozens of others, offer a variety of options for hitting a series of markets in one trip.  If you wanted to do a tour of your own, you could start with Nuremberg, one of the biggest, then head down to Munich, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Linz, and on to Vienna and you'd see some of the major must-see markets. That's if you want to focus on the must-see markets. If you want to focus on the must-see cities, I'd do Nuremberg, Munich and Vienna, or just two of those three, and call it a day. If you want to go more off the beaten path but still see a great city, I recommend Dresden. Chatters, let's have your thought on this.

I've never been on a cruise but I'm thinking about it. Obviously you can get a bigger cabin for a higher fare, but even within similar price categories there are choices to make about deck, position on the deck etc. Do higher or lower decks feel more stable in rough water? Do I want to be close to the elevator or stairs, or are they the noisiest? Etc. (And I can't imagine taking an inside cabin without a window. What's it like to spend a week in a broom closet?)

If you're afraid of motion sickness, get a cabin in the middle of the boat toward the bottom decks and avoid the front of the boat. If noise bothers you, choose a cabin that has cabins both below and above it. In other words, you don't want to be over the disco or the pool deck. And, yes,  it is noiser near the elevators/stairs. As for interior cabins, I'd pay up and go for something with at least a porthole. Even if time in the cabin is short, you still have to take showers, dress, etc., and interior cabins can feel claustrophic, especially if you're bunking with a friend or partner.  

I know this is an itinerary people tend to travel a lot, but I was wondering if you had any must-sees or off-the-beaten-path suggestions. We have 2-3 days in each city. We've booked hostels that are close to the traditional sights and are thinking about trains (unless you think busses might be better?) to get from place to place. Also, any food suggestions are highly welcome! Thanks so much-- love your chat :)

Trains between the cities are nicer, and they're quite efficient. Have a look at our recent Budapest story for some ideas in the city. In Vienna and Prague -- really just wander around. Everything's right there in front of you to see. Don't miss the Vienna Woods and Schonbrunn (Emperor's summer palace), the Mozart house and the wine cellars (keller)  in Vienna. In Prague, the Lennon Wall and the Jewish cemetery. It's been far too long since I was in any of those cities to offer dining recommendations, so I'll turn that question over to the chatters? Folks, your suggestions?

At Bryce Canyon, I was approached by a yound German couple who asked "could you take a photo from us?"


We stayed for a night at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, VA last summer and really enjoyed it, though it's not cheap. Great historic hotel feel, and an amazing outdoor pool and hot tub.

I was in Canberra Australia several years ago on business. I ordered a cheeseburger, and the person behind the counter asked if I wanted "the works". I said yes. I found out that this included cucumber slices instead of pickles, plus chunks of pineapple. Once I got over the surprise, it was delicious.

I guess "the works" means different things in different places!

My husband and I are traveling to Italy in early October 2014. We are planning to fly to Venice and return from Rome. We live in the D.C. metro area. Are there any particular airlines we should zero in on?

Those are major routes, so the main airlines fly from the Washington area: British Airways,  Air France, Alitalia, etc. I suggest checking the options on a flight search engine like Kayak and choose by fare or itinerary. Or if you have a frequent flier plan, pick the airline in your program.

You might also consider flying round trip from DC to Rome (nonstop) and taking the train between the two cities. Train travel time is less than four hours.

Nice to have back-to-back Colorado articles yesterday! But, I'm confused. The sidebar in both articles says that Frontier flies nonstop from National to Denver. One article says that United flies nonstop from all three airports (National, Dulles, BWI), while the other article says that United flies nonstop from two airports (Dulles, BWI), but does not mention National. Which is correct? They can't both be right. Thanks!

Good catch! United does fly from all three airports. We should have coordinated that better, shouldn't we have? Thanks for pointing it out; we'll have to correct.

Hello All, Having lived in Japan and traveled through Asia I remember paying the travel agent( No #1 travel-in Tokyo) about $1200 which included flight fromTokyo,all transport, hotel and meals. Does this still exist. Thinking about returning stopping in Tokyo then going to Thailand. Should I piece it together myself ot use an agency in the states. Thanks..Kevin

It all depends on your time and energy. If you want to research the trip and book it, DIY. Grab some guidebooks and check online sources. If you are tight on time, find a travel agent, who can certainly  piece together the entire trip, from flights to hotels to transfers, etc. Of course, you will likely pay more for the travel agent, but you will also have someone to help you if plans go awry.

If you go the travel agent route, make sure your agent has peronal experience in the country and has visited frequently. You will get a better trip.

I learned the hard way that the US and Great Britain are the only two nations separated by one language. Prior to planning my first trip to Portugal's Azores islands in order to meet some distant cousins I'd found online, and to start started on researching my roots there, I took two years (!) of Portuguese at our local university. I didn't realize how different Brazilian Portuguese (which the university offers) and the European version are until I arrived in the Azores and attempted to understand the locals. Oh, I could read signs just fine, but it turns out European Portuguese truncates a lot of unaccented final vowels, so the words whiz past faster than my brain was accustomed to! Some of the people I met, including my distant cousins, helped me as best they could to hear the difference, so by the end of three weeks I was starting to get the hang of understanding spoken European Portuguese. One silver lining was that since Brazilian "novelas" (soap operas) are popular in Portugal, the locals all had no difficulty understanding me when I spoke Brazilian Portuguese, and indeed complimented me on my excellent accent! P.S. On subsequent trips I've picked up more of the European accent (and some vocabulary differences), and can now speak both dialects with some fluency!

Glad you've picked up some more of the local lingo!

So, Air Canada was having a big sale back in the fall so I booked a trip to Toronto this coming weekend to take advantage. Did I make a big mistake? I've been there in winter before but it was never all that cold despite some snow from time to time. It seemed like a good idea at the time and the total fare was about half when I have seen it at in the last several years. It's been 8 or 9 years since I was last there so I am looking forward to seeing the changes. Hopefully I won't have to spend the whole time in the underground Path to stay warm.

Yes, it will be cold in Toronto this coming weekend. I just checked the Weather Channel, and it looks as if the temperature won't go above 20, plus they'll be a nice breeze. Indoor things to do include Ripley's Aquarium and the wildlife photography exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. And there's the Bata Shoe Museum, which is running an exhibition on sneakers. Other ideas chatters? 

I'd also add the standard travel guru recommendation to check out Cruise Critic. The best cabins vary SO much from ship to ship, so it's worth it to read up on the reviews of the specific ship. I'd also recommend splurging on a balcony cabin. It's very nice to get fresh air if you are prone to motion sickness.

My doctor gave me a prescription for compression socks, because I have a long flight to Australia. I bought them and plan to wear them, but they look so nerdy, even under slacks. Have the editors or chatters worn these? Do you see a lot of people using these on long flights?

Obviously, your doctor's recommendation will have to trump fashion. Been there! But not with compression socks. Chatters, a little reassurance here?

A recent business trip had me wondering two things. 1) Should I tip the housekeeping even if I DON'T need them to attend to my room that day? 2) What about the person that refills the breakfast buffet and wipes down tables? (I did tip number 1 but not number 2)

Think you made the right decision regarding housekeeping because they likely came in and cleaned your room regardless of whether you needed it done. And I do leave a small tip at hotel breakfast buffets. Then again, I'm from New York, and we tip everybody.

Some etiquette experts might say you should leave a tip because housekeeping did clean the room before your arrival. But that's nit-picking. I think if they are not cleaning up your mess that day, then there's no need to leave a tip.

For the buffet, I only leave a tip if the server poured me coffee or refilled my water.  I typically clear my own plates. Is that weird?

While I speak several languages, French isn't one of them, I took my Dad and two nephews on a tour of Normandy a few years back, and we ended up changing our planned itinerary around. One evening we were driving around trying to find a hotel with rooms for the 4 of us, and ended up in the parking lot of "Hotel de Ville". In my defense, I was 8 months pregnant at the time, and driving with my dad and 2 teenagers in my British right-hand drive car was taxing, but the actual translation never entered my mind. We sent the boys up to the building to see if they had any rooms, and watched while they came back absolutely hysterical...yes, "Hotel de Ville" means "City Hall" in French....

And was your face red. . .

I found that a window made me sick (at dinner and around the ship when we were at sea) and was happy we had an interior room on the middle of the bottom deck. It was often dark by the time we got to our room and we were up by sunrise, so there was no real purpose for a window. Plus, it was silent! The one down side is that there are mirrors everywhere in order to make the room look bigger than it is. That leaves very little to the imagination and almost no privacy!

That's one way of looking at it. I find having a window makes me feel better in rough weather. But a porthole probably wouldn't make a difference either way, which is why those staterooms are often just a few dollars more expensive than interior rooms. I think it's worth the splurge to get a balcony with sliding-glass doors. This way, when the decks are too crowded and you're sick of the hubbub, there's a place to escape and watch the flying fish, birds, etc. 


Purely hypothetically, of course. Travel insurance generally includes medical coverage, which might include referrals to local doctors and emergency evacuation. Is there anything comparable for a legal issue? The usual advice for an American arrested abroad is "Call the embassy and get a list of local lawyers." And that's pretty much it. I could imagine some kind of legal insurance, where for a fee a pre-screened local lawyer would be assigned to you and the first consultation or services up to a dollar amount would be paid for. The latest installment of the Amanda Knox saga reminds me how vulnerable and helpless Americans abroad can be.

Wow, you almost stumped me on that one. I searched far and wide to see if any travel insurance policy covers legal expenses that might result from getting arrested. This one comes close. I don't know of any travel insurance policies statside that will cover you in that way. Your best bet really is to call the embassy. Some large businesses contract with companies that provide medical evacuations and other services for referrals such as the one you mention, but typically that kind of coverage isn't sold to individuals.

Hi - looking for a change from the usual Delaware beach vacation this summer. Any suggestions for a family-friendly all-inclusive for a July trip - 2 adults and 2 kids 8 and 5. Thanks so much.

So much depends on budget. All-inclusives run the gamut from budget to luxury. Jamaica, Dominican Republic and  Cancun are known for having a wide range of all-inclusive resorts. And each has their own positives & negatives. Cancun is easy to get to, and the Playa del Carman area just south of there has lots of well-priced choices. DR has beautiful beaches, but not as many nonstop flights, so prices are usually higher. Jamaica has some nice luxury resorts, plus Holiday Inn Sunspree and a few other less expensive options. 

My children realized on a trip to Canada when you order bacon you will be served Canadian bacon. Which I guess is obvious but for some reason made us giggle over breakfast.


The same lesson applies also to taking a passenger ferry in choppy waters.

experience with foreign language. If you go to many of the national parks in Utah and Arizona you will liekly run into people from Europe and Asia, Many of them will ask about info or to take their picture. One time i was in a gift shop buying something and the cashier started to talk to me like she thought I was a foreeigner ang English was not my native language. For andrea from a chat a few weeks ago---90% of the time you arent going to get cheapr walk up rates. My experience I can get a cheaper rate online by $0 or more than pay at the desk. I have pulled out my ipad and made an online reservation then checked in right there a few times. for the person who mentioned Portugesse----Spanish in Latin America is very different depending on the country from what is talked in Spain. Many words have very different meanings. This issue came out the past month when the ACA launched their spanish language site and many were commenting on if they said it correctly or not. What people say in Spain is different than columbia which is different to Aregentina.


I think the Saratoga suggestion to the folks going to Canada is a good one. It's really beautiful there. The lake is impressive. If they are there during racing season there is lots of horse-related stuff to do. You can take a tour of the training track and go through some of the stable areas. If the kids are into horses they might enjoy it. The track itself can be interesting too. Lots of people stake a claim to a spot of ground and picnic all day in what they call "the backyard". The spa state park has some cool things too. The battlefield park was nice if you are into revolutionary war history. We went to the Saratoga monument as well (only open Fri-Sun) and climbed to the top. I had never been there before last summer but a friend of mine is a big horse racing fan so I went along with him. It was more fun than I expected.

Thanks for the affirmation!

Compression Socks are not nerdy to the right sub-set of people -- just pretend you're a marathoner or triathlete! (When I'm not in work-out clothes, though, I do hide them under my clothes. I don't think they are very noticeable, and at any rate, no one's ever mentioned them to me).

Check out a picture of yourself in tube socks. Compression socks are sooo much more chic!

Just were a pair of lightweight fashion socks over the compression hose. And wear slacks rather than a skirt/dress, if you're a female (or a Scotsman).

Mom's turning 75 this year, so her three daughters are taking her away for a long weekend in August (just the daughters, no hubbies or kids). We're leaning toward Savannah GA or Charleston SC (though I'm tempted to make a plug for Bar Harbor ME, a favorite place of mine). Mom and daughters are very active, so walking/hiking are great, but we'd all also be happy lounging at the beach/pool, reading and chatting. Good food and drink will be a focus in the evening. Do you have any suggestions among the existing options or other recommendations? Thanks.

A long weekend in August? I'm with you on Maine. I think Charleston and Savannah are pretty swampy that time of year. I say go north. The Burlington/Lake Champlain area would also be nice.

I will be in Anchorage for a business trip in mid-October. We are debating having my husband fly out with the kids towards the end of the week. I spent some time on the Anchorage tourism website and various travel websites. I still cannot determine if a trip in October would be worth doing. It seems much of the summer activities have closed or slowed down but the winter activities have not started up yet. Would you recommend making a vacation out of this trip or waiting to go to Alaska until we can time things better?

I teach at the school-of-thought that does not believe in waiting. If you have an opportunity, seize it! With this warming trend up north, you could have pleasant weather that allows you make the most of the national parks, glacier tours, etc. If you need to head indoors, the Anchorage Museum is hosting a film festival in October.

I wear them on any flight I take, no matter how long or short it is. They're really not visible under slacks, unless you're wearing leggings (which aren't pants anyway). But, really, no one can see them and no one knows they're there, especially if you don't move out of your seat much. Relax - more people are probably doing it than you think! If it helps, I'm relatively young, and not a single person of any age has ever commented about them. At least to my face. :)

I rented a car for a week over Christmas from Hertz in Cancun. Very good price, and no problem when I declined all the add-on insurance. I was alone, so a tiny manual transmission car was sufficient - the writer may have different needs. I drove over 1,000 miles to Campeche and back - no problems on the well maintained toll roads and highways of the Yucatan, although the tolls are steep - must be why I had the road to myself. If you aren't planing to use the car much you should consider taking the ADO bus from the terminal to Playa del Carmen (or Tulum or Puerto Morelos as well) for about $12 per person. They leave every hour, and you can get a taxi from the station in PDC to your hotel very cheap.

I'd also ask the hotel whether they provide a shuttle service. Most do, and while they aren't free, price is usually reasonable. 

My husband and I must be in Dublin for 4-5 days at the end of August. We are able to arrive in Ireland 3-4 days before that. Any thoughts on what part of the Emerald Isle we could explore in that timeframe, before we need to arrive in Dublin? If it matters, we've been to Ireland once before, saw Dublin, Limerick, Dingle Peninsula, Adare. Thanks.

Wexford or Waterford?

My doc prescribed the 20/30 socks for me. They come in black, navy and tan. The black ones look like real socks...this shouldn't be a problem for the poster who is going to Australia.

I've read that watching the horizon through a porthole actually adds to seasickness... you have to be on deck, without the "framing" effect, to get the benefits of watching the horizon to settle your stomach. As to what is a better cabin - I absolutely loved a cabin we had once - it was the top residential deck, had a balcony, everything was marvelous - except for the very weird "CLUNK Clunk clunkclunkclunk" noise coming from our ceiling. It happened every few minutes all through our first day. Not at night - but all day. It turns out we were under the mini-golf course, and the padding at the bottom of one of the cups had been removed. Every time someone sank the ball on Hole 4, it would hit the metal separating decks, bounce a few times, and echo. Luckily they replaced the padding.

Did you figure out that mystery sound on your own?  Yes, stay away from pool decks, discos & mini-golf. For some, motion sickness also has a psychological component, but generally I agree that a tiny porthole window might do more harm than good. 


Travel Gurus, my husband and I would like to escape to someplace warm after a very stressful time. We thought of Puerto Rico and wondered if you had any advice for where to stay. We want easy access to a nice beach and also a pool and a quiet hotel room. We do not care about golf or gambling or night clubs. Our only constraint is that due to health issues, it is hard for us to go up and down steps or walk for long distances, but we would like to get into Old San Juan for some sightseeing. Is there one neighborhood/area that would be better than another? Would it make sense to book 4-5 days just at a beach and then 2-3 days in Old San Juan? We're flexible as to time, is there any hotel booking site that would allow us to enter "March" or a two week period etc. and see when it would be cheapest? Thanks for your help!!

i would recommend staying in Old San Juan, so you can walk or cab to restaurants, museums, art galleries, shops, the old fort, etc. El Convento is a gorgeous historic hotel, though I am not sure if it's easy on the legs. You might want to call and ask. Otherwise, any major hotel or resort chain will have elevators, such as La Concha Resort, Caribe Hilton, etc.

How you divide your time is very personal. I get bored at the beach, so I prefer to stay somewhere with a beach nearby as well as other activities. If you stay in San Juan, you can certainly take day trips through a tour operator or ask your hotel concierge for assistance.

For best times to travel in March, avoid the holidays and spring break week. Rates drop before and after this period. I don't know of a search engine that shows prices for the entire month, but specific hotels often have calendars that show the daily prices, so you can pick the cheapest dates.

I apologize for having told this story here before, but it perfectly fits today's topic, so please forgive me. About 30 years ago I was visiting my family in the SF Bay Area, and my parents decided we should drive down to the Monterey-Carmel area for an overnight trip. Once we arrived, my mother wanted a nap, so my dad suggested that he and I do the 17-Mile Drive from Monterey to Carmel (southbound). It was mid-week in February, so there were few tourists, and we kept seeing the same ones at our stops, since they were driving in the same direction as we were. Most intriguing were two young men speaking Japanese, one of whom looked Japanese but the other looked Anglo-Saxon. After smiling pleasantly at one another at several of the stops, when we finally reached the picturesque Lone Cypress the Anglo guy came up and in American English asked my dad to snap a photo of them, which of course my did was more than willing to oblige. Then out of thin air my dad said something to them in Japanese, and both men totally cracked up laughing. Turned out the American had just returned to the US (now living in LA) from working in Japan, and before he'd left he'd extended an invitation to coworkers to come visit him if they ever decided to take their vacation in California, and this was his first guest. What, you're probably wondering, did my dad say to them? "I am a poor but honest working man!"

I remember this story! Thanks for the reminder.

Hyde Park, NY, home of the Culinary Institute of America, with its several student restaurants?

Need to be in Paris Aug. 2; staying for about 3 weeks. Flights from MSP are really expensive this year. Any idea if they will come down?

 I'm seeing round-trip fares of about $1,380 on Icelandair with connections, which seems about right for August. 

Going to Greece in sept or Oct for a week . thinking of flying to Athens, spending a day or two there and then get on a cruise ship to Santorini. Thoughts?

We have very good thoughts about your trip. Seems like a good plan.

For the people going to Ireland... how about Cork? The food was fantastic. You have to go to the English Market! Another option is to go to Northern Ireland. Would Belfast be too far? It is a wonderful city! Oh, and when I went a year ago, I really liked Cashel...lovely little small town. It isn't too far from Dublin.

And that's it for us today! Great discussion, and *great* language barrier stories. So many good ones -- the no-gin martinis in London, and Latvian-Lithuanian exchanges, BUT, my favorite is the story about the Spanish doctor who learned English in jail! I'm still laughing! Send your contact info to me at, and I'll send off your prize! Thanks all. Next week is President's Day, so we'll be taking a holiday, but we'll see you here, same time, same station on Feb. 24! Happy holidays till then!


In This Chat
Zofia Smardz
Zofia Smardz is the deputy editor of Travel.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is Travel's editorial aide.
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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