Talk about Travel: Unusual lodgings, London events and more

Mar 24, 2014

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Howdy, travelers. Welcome to the most inspirational and aspirational hour of the week: Travel Chat! Yee-haw.

For today's question, tell us about the most unconventional lodgings you have ever stayed in and win a prize. Check out our Sunday Travel section for ideas: a treehouse in Costa Rica, for example, or a casbah in Morocco. And they don't need to be in exotic locales. I recently overnighted in a silo-shaped cabin in Peoria, Ill. In the distance, I could hear screaming cougars--no joke! (Before you fear for my life, they live in enclosures in the state park.)

I have a friend who is thinking of visiting DC for a few weeks and wants to bring his dog. What if any travel restrictions will he run into? Thank you!

Here is information from the CDC. So long as the dog has been vaccinated for rabies (unless it comes from a rabies-free country) and is in good health, it shouldn't be difficult.

Best way to get from Heathrow to Brighton? Gatwick is closer/more convenient to Brighton per the bride. But I prefer a non-stop from IAD and don't really want to fly out of Newark or JFK even if those airports do have non-stops to Gatwick. Rather than going into London there's a shuttle bus between LHR and Gatwick. Than I'd take a train to Brighton. Any better suggestions, easier to take train from London? Am a senior citizen but am used to flying to Europe, making connecting flights there, taking public transportation from airports into cities. But would prefer a non-stop after several trips with connecting flights over the last several years.

I agree. Stick with a non-stop to Heathrow. Here's what the Brighton tourism site recommends:

For trains from Heathrow to Brighton, your best bet is to take the London Underground to London Victoria and connect with a mainline train to Brighton. Alternatively, take the Heathrow Express to Paddington and then the Underground to Victoria. The Heathrow Express is probably quickest but the Underground is the cheaper option. Journey time takes approximately 2 hours 15 minutes, depending on your chosen route and connection times. 

A little more:

Rail services in the UK are operated by a number of private train operators. The key operators to Brighton are Southern and First Capital Connect. Trains arrive into Brighton mainline Station on Queens Road. Regular rail connections also serve Hove and take just a few minutes from Brighton. 

Sorry to miss the Europe chat last week! My boyfriend and I are heading to Edinburgh, Scotland for 5 days in July for a wedding. Do you have any recommendations for a place to stay in the city that won't break the bank (i.e. under $200 USD/night)? Any must-sees in or around Edinburgh?

I looked at the boxes from a few recent Scotland stories, and came across two possibilities: Dene Guest House (24-50 pounds) and the Scotsman (which we said at the time had rooms starting around $200).

Here are a few things to see. Other recommendations?

I am heading to Mexico next week for a birthday celebration. Can NOT wait for sun and warmth!! We only have 3 full days and are looking forward to mainly relaxing. Is it worth a trip to the ruins? Can you do this in a few hours or is it a full day excursion? Also, any restaurant recommendations? We are not staying in an all inclusive but are just a few steps from 5th Ave. Thanks!

Unless you're very interested in history and archaeology, I'd skip making the trip to the ruins on such a short vacation. If you do go, hire a cab and go first thing in the morning before the buses head out. Playa del Carmen has an extensive collection of good restaurants: a couple with good reviews include  Mestizaje sin Fronteras for authentic Mexican food and Il Pescatore for Italian seafood. 

Just got back from Australia. A hidden gem in Cairnes (a launching point for Great Barrier Reef) is to go to the top of the casino in town, near the entrance to the "rooftop zoo," to hold and have a photo taken with a koala. Also suggest you look for other places to see the reef (some people said go further north), as the section we visited did not have really colorful coral or an abundance of fish. Loved the Outback, especially Uluru (Ayer's Rock), and recommend visiting it, as it's unlike the coastal towns. Enjoyed a tour inside the Sydney Opera House (so stark inside and lots of odd angles). Best souvenir shopping was Victoria Market in Melbourne (but avoid the junk). Don't miss the food hall; graze your way through it.

Great tips. Thanks!

What sources do you travel experts use to find out about local events? I just found out that I'll be traveling to London at the end of next week, and while guidebooks are fine for the standard fare, I'd be interested in other types of things, as well - for example, it appears that the Oxford/Cambridge rowing race is that weekend. Where might I find out about other, similar periodic or one-time events to attend? Time out? What do you use?

Time Out is good, but most country and city tourism sites maintain event calendars that you can search. I use those a lot.

My husband and I are planning a trip to Brittany, France for a wedding in late May. What would be the best way (not too expensive or long) to get there from DC? Fly directly to an airport nearby; fly first to Paris and take a plane or train (we have been to Paris already); or depart from England by plane, train, ferry? Stopping in London (either way) for a stay is a possibility. We are planning a 7 day trip. thanks

Not sure where in Brittany would be best airport for you, but if Nantes is nearby, Easyjet flies from London Gatwick to Nantes -- fare starts at about $270 round trip per person. It would cost about $112 round trip  to take the 2.5-hour train from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes. 

My wife and I as retirees and are traveling to Europe this fall via the military space available program (free flight but must be flexible). We are headed south to Interlaken Switzerland, then to Garmish, Germany and then to Vienna. Rick Steves recommends paying for everything in Euro's except for hotels and rental car. What do you guys think? Where is best place to get Euro's? Thanks.

Honestly, I'd be a little concerned about carrying around so much cash. Whether you pay with a credit card or exchange money, you're going to be hit with some kind of fee. That said, our research has shown that you generally get the best exchange rates by taking money out at ATMs in Europe.

My wife and I will be Fort Worth for a couple days in late April and want to find out if anyone found something special to see? We were told the Union Stockyards was cool but what else? We are particularly interested in nature and exercise. No sweat for us. :-)

The Stockyards district is definitely fun, don't miss it. You could also visit the Forth Worth Botanic Gardens, which should be very nice in late April. Thistle Hill is a beautiful grand old 1912 mansion that's open for tours. Have a meal at Joe T. Garcia's Mexican restaurant. You might also consider hopping over to Dallas, just 30 minutes away, to check out Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum in the former schoolbook depository from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy.

What else, chatters?

I know you said nature and exercise, but IMO you can't go to Fort Worth and not hit some of the amazing museums: The Modern, Kimbell, Amon Carter, Cowgirl. Walking around a museum is sort of exercise, if you do it quickly enough, I suppose! ;-)

Love the What's the Deal section and have taken advantage of a few deals. One of which was listed on March 9, reduced rates at the Hotel Wolcott in NYC, celebrating their anniversary. Your column listed "plus $19 taxes". I booked a room at the reduced rate but wanted to let you know it was $43 in taxes. Overall cost is still a deal for Manhattan. Don't know whether the hotel mislead you or if taxes went up between the time you checked out the deal and I booked my room (around March 15).

So glad that you scored a great deal in NYC. And thanks for letting us know about the taxes. I will let my hotel source know about the difference in taxes --what they quoted me vs. what you ended up paying.

My husband & I will be in Paris mid-July. We would also like to spend tour the Normandy beaches and travel to Hamburg, Germany to see Miniatur Wunderland (world's largest model railway exhibit). Our questions are: what is the most cost-effective way to travel & visit each place? How much time to allocate to the Normandy excursion & where to stay while in Normandy & Hamburg? We have not yet made plane reservations.

How much time to do you have? You'd probably want at least one, possibly two full days at the Normandy beaches. There are trains from Paris to either Caen or Bayeux; the ride is about 2 hours each way.  This is probably the cheapest way to get there, but it gives you less flexibility than renting a car.  You can also take a train from Paris to Hamburg, but the trip is about 8 hours, so you'd have to schedule a day for travel. Plus it's not cheap -- about $300 one way. Flying is much faster but around $500. You'd have to decide whether you care more about time or money. As for places to stay, not having been to Hamburg in years, I can't offer a recommendations, but perhaps the chatters can. Folks?

During a summer in Europe while I was in college, a friend and I stayed in a circus tent on the outskirts of Munich that had been turned into a hostel. For something like 8 marks we got two blankets, a space on the floor, and a token for breakfast. It was chilly and damp and I don't think I got much sleep, but it was actually better run overall (and definitely more memorable) than other hostels we stayed in.

What a cool overnight stay, and no clowns hiding under your bed!

Nevermind. Forget the Oxford/Cambridge boat race. I've now discovered the Oxford/Cambridge goat race. Much more my style.

A goat race is what happens when we put out food for the herd on my husband's grandparents' farm.

I agree with tourism websites, but I also like to check local newspaper websites, as they often have more events listed, not just major ones. Also -- you might try if you have specific interests, such as dining out or art, as it could be fun to meet up with like-minded people when you travel.

Great ideas. I always check alternative newsweeklies, which have offbeat listings.

In September, after arriving in Marseille from Dulles, we will have a six-hour layover before our flight to Calvi in Corsica. Any recommendations? My wife is nervous as she's heard that Marseille is dangerous (key scenes the "French Connection" movie)

You could take a cab or bus to Aix-en-Provence and have a lovely lunch. Or consider a hop on/hop off tour in Marseille. As long as you keep your big-city wits about you, you will be fine. But if you feel uncertain touring solo, take advantage of the greeter program and tour with a local. Here's the info on the program.

Hi, I am meeting my wife in Tokyo in early June at the end of her business trip. We're adding on 3-4 days for a personal vacation. What are the don't-miss sites and things, including a possible overnight excursion outside Tokyo? thanks

There's so much to see in Tokyo! This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some of my favorite things when I visited many years ago were the Imperial Palace (and gardens), people-watching in Harajuku, food-watching (and -eating) in the department store basement food halls, spa-ing under the stars (well, more like under the neon street lights) at Spa La Qua, and winding through the stalls at Tsukiji fish market.

When I was there, my friend and I spend a few days in Kyoto, too, but you might not quite have time to do that justice -- it's about 3 1/2 hours on the train, and you might wish you had more time once you get there! Instead, you might think about going to Hakone to see gorgeous countryside and possibly even the elusive Mt. Fuji, which is often shrouded behind clouds but is beautiful anyway.

I want to customize a trip to Ireland (and in subsequent years to England and to Scotland), but I don't want to drive--I've driven there before and don't want to do it again! I was able to hire a service in Costa Rica to whom I gave my itinerary and they provided a car or van with a driver to shuttle me throughout my stay to my various destinations. Do you know of any similar service(s) in Ireland, England, and/or Scotland? Many thanks!

Many tour operators that specialize in Ireland offer chauffered  private tours, including CIE Tours,  Brendan Vacations and Isle Inn Tours

My wife and I have plane tickets into Copenhagen and out of Amsterdam. We wanted to spend time in Bruges also, and so we've made reservations at B&Bs in all three cities, but we can't buy train passes yet. But what we're unclear on is how we get our "reservations" after we've bought our passes. We've read Rick Steves' helpful information on the subject, but we're still a little unsettled by waiting a few weeks before we travel to make our reservations, especially the night train from Copenhagen to Bruges. If we can't get that one, we may be stranded without a place to stay. Can you give us first-timers some advice on planning a train tour in northern Europe?

When you say passes, you mean something akin to a Eurail or Rail Europe pass that allows you to travel at will, right? Not sure which exact night train you're taking, but I imagine you will need to make that reservation directly through the rail company (although if you went through Rail Europe, it looks like you can make reservations through the company). If you can't make reservations until a few weeks in advance, there's not much you can do to get around it. Everyone will be in the same boat. Just jump on it as soon as you can. You should be able to make the reservation online.

So, where are we currently with small tools in the carry on luggage? I like to carry either a standard size 4 inch long folder Leatherman all purpose tool, or a multi-bladed Swiss Army knife. Are we allowed to carry these things on? Thanks for all your help in these chats.

That would be a no. Here's a list of prohibited items. You might recall that the TSA last year considered allowing pocket knives, but backed off after public outcry.

I'm a French native who left France in my early twenties and never got to really travel around France. I'm celebrating a big birthday and meeting my sister, who lives in the south of France early April to do a road trip ending in Bretagne where we rented a house for a week, and road tripping on the way back. Here's our proposed itinerary: Montpellier (where she lives) to Limoges ( through Viaduc de Millau), then Limoges (with a stop in Oradour sur Glane) to Angers through Poitiers (Montreuil-Bellay and Brissac castles), from Angers, drive to Plouescat our final stop, (with a stop at the Serrant Castle). I'm just looking for other suggestions on or around the way. This is such a once in a lifetime trip for us since she is over there and I'm here. Thank you for any suggestions. Also, any favorite Loire Castles? I know Azay le Rideau is a popular one but maybe another one would be one not to miss?

Oh my! We're not all French natives, I fear. I had to pull out my road atlas just to figure out where you're going! Alas, this is a part of France I haven't extensively explored. Chatters, any favorite stops along this route?

We are considering Morocco for our honeymoon destination in late October. Our budget is limited ($1000) each without flights. We will have a week, and as we are interested in visiting as much as we can on a budget, I was thinking of joining an intrepid tour or something like that as their groups are really small and they do maximize their time. However I'm not sure if there are other companies with tours like them, or even if it is better to do everything on our own...if so where should we go? We love good food, photography and sightseeing and of course getting to know the culture a bit by staying in small hotels and so on. Thank you!!

Have you read our Morocco story from this week? It may be the trip for you, from Marrakesh to Erg Chebbi through the Valley of 1,000 Casbahs! It sounds fabulous, and they haggled over the prices to keep costs low. I would love to spend a night in a casbah! I've never taken an Intrepid Tour and am not really a group-tour person, so I can't speak to that. Chatters, please share your thoughts!

I'm heading to Tampa April 25 - 27 (from any DC area airport). Due to the IIFA Awards in Raymond stadium, air tix are in the $350-$400 range. Any suggestions on other airports, etc? Which airline is the best option? Not flexible with dates.

Yikes. I'm not finding anything much better. (In some cases, much worse!) I just looked for alternatives at Fort Myers, Sarasota and Orlando, using both Kayak and Southwest's search. Nothing cheaper.

You won't go too far wrong heading to this pub, right at the start of the Boat Race.  All things Boat Race April, 2014:

Cheers to that!

Westin has a promo that charges you your birth year for 2nd & 3rd night if you stay for 3 nights. I was born in 1962 so it's only $62/night.

What a deal! I need make a friend born in 1930!

does sleeping in the road count? Was on a bus in Burkina Faso. The driver and mate had a big fight, so we were late making it to the border. They were closed. We had to sleep overnight. Some people stayed on the bus, but it was too hot, so I slept -- with at least a dozen guys (I'm a gal) -- literally, in the street. It was dusty, but I actually felt safe and thankfully it was dry season so no mosquitoes.....

That definitely qualifies!

Had a dodgy travel guide in Australia so I got off the bus in Coober Pedy -- the company said another bus would be coming through in a few days that I could join. In the interim I found a nice little cave to stay in. Oh, except for one wind storm which looked like it came out of a movie!!!

Going back to your caveperson roots. Nice!

I was on an interview for an adjunct professor job in Akron. The hotel wasn't shaped like a grain silo, it WAS a former grain silo. Quaker Square Inn at the University of Akron. It seems to be closed for renovations, but the picture on the website gives you the idea. All sorts of grain memorabilia in the lobby.

How fun! I had a knockoff. I love the idea of a real grain silo.

We are headed south for spring break, which we always do (this time, it's Savannah and Tybee). I am always looking for a fun place to spend the night along the way to break up the trip.....suggestions? We've done Charleston and Raleigh, but many other places look a little "blah"!

How about Myrtle Beach? Or Pawleys Island, which is lovely. Or is that too much like Tybee? There's always Richmond, or Durham. I haven't been to Fayetteville, NC, but I've often thought of stopping there. It looks quite nice. Chatters, what do you think?

Hello, Leaving on Friday for a week in Lima (not traveling to other places in Peru on this trip). Do you have any advice or recommendations? About dress, restaurants, shops, markets, museums, "must-see" attractions, etc. Gracias!

When he was in Lima the other year, our Food section colleague Tim Carman wrote a blog post about markets, as well as a larger piece on the overall food scene in Peru. That's a start, at least. Other recommendations?

Can anyone recommend software or an online program (not mobile app) to chart where I've visited around the world? I'd also love to be able to mark it with my "wish list" travel destinations. Thanks.

I use Google Earth here for mapping purposes. You can download it to your computer and pin all your trips and bucket list destinations. Or you can just use Google Maps and create a custom map. Other thoughts?

If anyone has been to Norway (or that vicinity) in winter and can recommend a tour operator with an itinerary that includes a few days offering potential viewing of the northern lights, would love to hear your thoughts.

On my bucket list! Norway Tourism has  a list of tour operators and cruises that specialize in seeing the aurora borealis. And the World Wildlife Fund offers this itinerary. Chatters have any recommendations?

Joe, as a fellow vegetarian and food enthusiast, where do you like to eat in LA? (Any Korean recs?)

I don't get to LA nearly often enough, frankly. And the last couple of times I've been there I was on book tour and was, well, booked up mostly doing private events and parties. But I did get to a few places. First, if you're willing to hunt them down, you might like the stuff from the Green Truck (try the Kale-Yeah salad). And I always make time for Pizzeria Mozza.

The next time I go, I want to hit Shojin, which looks great. And of course I should put Crossroads Kitchen on the agenda; it's gotten lots of accolades. And I'd like to get to Elf Cafe (can you say avocado/tahini spread?).

After reading my friend Besha Rodell's Undercover Vegetarian series of blog posts in LA Weekly, I'd also add Girasol and Bucato to the list.

Clearly, I need to make a trip, don't I?

The fact is, there are lots of vegetarian options at loads of restaurants in LA. I went with Besha last year to a VERY low-key place in Echo Park whose name is escaping me; I've nudged her for a reminder and will post once I get. Anyway, like Girasol and Bucato it wasn't veg per se, but I had no problem eating lots of great stuff.

We have two high school seniors with an upcoming spring break - mid-April. Due to their soon to be coming college tuitions we don't have a lot of money to spend for a 5-6 day get away. Flights are definitely out but we are willing to go anywhere you could drive in a day - although closer is obviously better. I assume that we would have to go deep into Florida to get beach weather. Would really welcome any thoughts or suggestions you have. Many thanks.

Although it's off-season and many stores will be closed, you can get your beach fix and find good deals in the Outer Banks. My favorite is Ocracoke Island, which includes a free car ferry ride. You might also consider Wilmington, N.C., and the surrounding beaches of Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville -- about 5 1/2 hours by car from Washington. You could probably find an inexpensive place to stay several blocks from the beach.

Plan to travel from Madrid to Cordoba and/or Granada end of April. Should we take the train or drive? Any suggestions on what not to miss in cordoba/granada. Thanks a lot!

It all depends on your comfort level with driving in foreign places and your time constraints. I typically chose to drive, because I like the freedom of stopping along the way and exploring. The downside: I usually get lost and don't arrive in the final destination till dark.

The train to Cordoba is much more relaxing and takes less than two hours. If you are tight on time, you should opt for the train -- the drive takes about 4 1/2 hours.

As for attractions, chatters, can you help?

Hubby and I are heading to BC from Seattle for about a week. Thinking it might be more economical to take public transportation from Seattle to Vancouver, then rent a car for several days in Vancouver. Would that make sense? In Canada, is it cheaper (per day) to rent a car for one week rather than 3 days? I'm guessing for Vancouver sights we could use public transportation, but sounds like it might be easier/better to take the car ferry to Victoria and also to see some hiking/kayaking sights outside the city.

That sounds mostly reasonable, although I think you could probably totally eschew the car in Vancouver and just rent a car when you get to the island. It will cost you about $100 round trip (not including passenger fares) to get the car back and forth on the ferry. But keep in mind that the ferry from Vancouver goes to Swartz Bay and not Victoria. So that might influence your decision -- rental agencies are not within walking distance of that terminal like they are in Victoria. You may, however, arrange to be picked up by a rental agency at the ferry terminal. There are several agencies at the airport nearby. 

Our most unusual accommodations were in a tented camp at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in South Africa. Our platform consisted of two large tents (with beds and a bathroom) and a cooking area with a stove, refrigerator, etc. While it wasn't completely "roughing it", it sure wasn't a 4-star safari lodge either. We were certainly reminded of our surroundings when we returned from a drive and found that the resident apes had zipped open one of our tents in search of our fruit-scented shampoo and when the hyenas skulked around our platform one evening as we were playing cards outside.

Hmm, did the loser of the card game get tossed to the hyenas?

Not terribly exotic, but interesting from an environmental perspective. When I was in Santorini I stayed at a hotel where the water was heated by solar power. There were signs warning against taking showers after dark, but I was there during an even hotter than usual July and never ran out of hot water regardless of the time of day.

An eco-shower-- how wonderful!

Some Maasai guys let me pitch a tent on their land, while traveling. I did hire one to sit watch, since it was lion country. The other walked me into/out of town for dinner that night. I had a headlamp, which he thought was the coolest thing ever, and earned a lot of kudos for wearing around town......

Congrats for pulling of the headlamp hat. Sounds like an amazing experience.

We travel to London frequently and rely on for planning. Once a popular newspaper , now a great website.


It wasn't a vacation, but I have chaperoned a couple of youth group events at the National Cathedral here in DC, at which I was able to catch a few hours of sleep on the floor of the main sanctuary. I found the floor to be surprisingly warm (perhaps there were heating pipes underneath) and awakening to colored light streaming in from the stained glass and booming organ music (an organist came in to give us our wakeup call!) is a pretty spectacular way to start the day.

How otherworldy!

We traveled to Tromso, Norway and hired different guides on different nights to take us out to see the Northern Lights. They vary between big coach buses or smaller groups.

Do you remember any of the names? 

Good afternoon crew! My most unconventional lodging had to be in Lancaster, PA about 20 years ago at a place called the Red Caboose motel. A real, refurbished cabooses to sleep in (a little narrow, but with full facilities). And, we have the family photo we took with 'our' caboose behind us still hanging in our den! A little hokey, yes, but fun for my then-6 year old daughter.

Oh I stayed there too! It was such a hoot -- or rather, a toot.

To the poster with the info about the Westin Toronto deal--which Westin? There seem to be a few in the area. I'm born in 1965 so I feel like it would be worth it to investigate further!

Poster, can you help?

I also found the same deal at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel.

I was in Hamburg last summer...also mainly to see Miniatur Wunderland. I went on Saturday evening and it was very quiet there which was great for me. Book your ticket online ahead of time and save something like 10%. I spent about 4 hours and really loved it. The technology is pretty astounding. I stayed at the Sofitel am Alter Wall. Very nice hotel, good breakfast spread. I booked through the city tourism bureau and got a 3 nights for the price of 2 deal which included daily breakfast and a room upgrade plus a 3 Hamburg Card which gets you free public transport. But the hotel was walking distance to most things. The City Hall is very cool and I thought the tour was worthwhile (and something like $2 a bargain). There are many interesting old churches around town with nice views from their towers.

Thanks for the input!

I have a conference in Singapore in late May. I have never been to Asia and I hope to combine this with a short vacation for my husband and me. We are flying out of Dulles and could stop in Japan or somewhere else on the way to or from the trip (a maximum of 4 days.) We like cities and nature, people watching, walking, cultural opportunities, museums, and good food. We are not into crowds or shopping which makes me think that adding time to our stay in Singapore is probably not the best idea. Any ideas on what we might do?

I love Japan, and even in the big cities, you can find nature, gardens and lovely temples, such as Sensoji Shrine. You might consider basing yourselves in Tokyo and taking the bullet train to Kyoto. You can also hike Mt. Takao, which is set in a national park and features a Buddhist temple and a science garden center. For a relaxing experience, visit an onsen, a hot springs spa. You can even overnight in the spa. I stayed at Oedo-onsen Monogatari.

I am lucky enough to be going to Italy in the fall. Do you have any suggestion on where I can find attractive shoes geared for walking? I want to avoid the tennis shoe.

Lots of recommendations in this chat from September.

In my car in the parking lot of a NJ reststop. It took me 4 hours to get across Delaware and I called it quits for the night. I felt perfectly save in my car since hundreds of other people were doing the exact same thing.

Car City, USA!

I have slept in my car, too. I had a nightmare that a giant hand grabbed me by hair and yanked me out through the sunroof.

We've stayed in a kibbutz in Israel that rented out empty living spaces, during the same trip we also stayed in a monastery converted to a hostel in Jerusalem, and a tent on a platform in the Sinai - what made that one more unique wasn't the room itself (one step up from camping), but the "lounge" for the small resort was a tent built of a number of tarps and set against a small rocky outcropping, where every inch of space in that tent - sand, rocks, and even trees (there were a few in the middle of the lounging area) was covered with carpets. However, one "wall" was entirely open to the Red Sea, just some 30 feet away. I sat on the carpet-covered ground, leaning against a carpet-covered rock, played backgammon, and even smoked a hookah, all while looking out at the sea and the most stars you can imagine. I've never felt so much in a different reality as I did that evening.

How fascinating!

I'm spending a couple days in Boston and have already done the very touristy things. The weather's not going to be good so I don't think I'll want to walk the Freedom Trail anyway. I am thinking of going to the Isabella Gardner Museum and maybe the Museum of Fine Arts. Any suggestions for similar cultural things to see that aren't necessarily museums? Thanks.

If you're at all into historic houses, the're the Gibson House in the Back Bay and the Nichols House on Beacon Hill. Maybe the Mary Baker Eddy Library? What else, chatters?

Two great spots are right across a plaza from one another: The spectacular Boston Public Library and Trinity Church (photos of the latter reflected in the sleek, glass Hancock Tower are cliches for good reason.

Re: getting lost (from a couple chats ago)--One can get lost pretty quickly in a labyrinthine Las Vegas hotel casino. Also, if you're taking a tour of Hoover Dam's interior, make sure you keep track of your guides, some of whom can be short-statured. That happened to me, and I was lucky to get accepted into another tour group after wandering alone in those huge tunnels. Suggestion to Chris Elliott--if you're doing that tour w/your kids, make sure they don't run off and keep track of the aforementioned guides. That said, the size of the turbines in the generator room and the sound of the water going through the dam are mind-blowing!

Thanks for chiming in! I agree about the Las Vegas casinos.

I'm heading to Colorado Springs for work in May and my husband will join me for a few days afterward for a mini-vacation. Any recommendations on where to go and what to see? We love nature, hiking, red rocks and good food.

You may have to do the Pikes Peak drive, even it if it a bit kitschy. The national forests there have plenty of trails and ranger-led hikes & programs.  The U.S. Olympic Training Center is also worth a visit.  Colorado Springs tourism has a pretty good Web site with lots of other ideas. I spent most of my time there bird watching (guard your food from  the Clark's nutcrackers if you eat lunch al fresco on Pikes Peak). 

I would like to visit Quebec City this summer for about 4-5 days. While I have been to Montreal several times (and love it), my wife has not been, but does not a preference on visiting one way or another. Recognizing that I need to travel through Montreal, do you have any tips on the best and least expensive way? Airfares seem very high. Is it worth it fly to Montreal, spend a night and then take the train to and from? Or, does that just add on to the time in an otherwise tight itinerary?

I'm having a little bit of a hard time processing this, so forgive me if I misunderstand. It's about a three-hour drive or train ride between Montreal and Quebec City. So you could attack this from any number of angles. Fly to Montreal, see Montreal and then drive or train to Quebec. Fly to Burlington (our strategy for saving money), drive to Montreal and then drive to Quebec (or do the loop the other way). The six-hour round-trip makes it a little iffy as a day trip back and forth from Quebec, which is why I like the idea of doing it at the end or beginning of the trip and staying one night in Montreal.

A friend wants me to join her for a birthday trip to New Mexico in mid-May. She's thinking Santa Fe but we're still doing research. Las Vegas is not really our style. Any favorite areas for a three-or-so day visit? And will the weather be tolerable (as in, not too hot) at that time? Thanks.

I think Santa Fe's a great choice for a few days in mid-May! You could hit my favorite spa ever (and eat at its new restaurant, which we'll have more info about, along with other restaurants, in Tom Sietsema's upcoming postcard this weekend). Weather -- yes! Average highs in the mid-70s, lows in the 40s.

Did you try the Punta Gorda (FL) airport?

Kayak didn't pull up any results for me to that airport! Looks like the only airline listed on the web site is Allegiant, and I don't see a route for D.C.

I would like to travel somewhere outside of the United States this year, but I'm having trouble convincing my friends to go with me. Clearly I need new friends :). Any ideas on affordable places to go, perhaps as part of a group tour? I'd prefer a tour that isn't one of those hop-on hop-off bus tours.

It would be helpful if you'd narrow things down for us a bit. What kind of thing do you like to do? What are your interests? Where have you already been? What part of the world attracts you? We're not mind-readers, so it's hard to suggest places just cold like that. :-)

are you saying take the passenger ferry from Vancouver to Victoria and then rent a car in Victoria (if the agency will pick us up)? Just for 2-3 days? And then maybe rent a car for 2 days in Vancouver if we want to go hiking?

Ah, OK, I didn't realize you meant hiking around Vancouver. I thought you were just going to hike around on Vancover Island. If you plan to use a car in both places, probably just best to rent in Vancouver and suck up the ferry car fee, especially since it's a bit of a hassle to get a car after you take the ferry from Vancouver (which, to emphasize, does not go to Victoria, but rather 20 miles from the city in Swartz Bay).

Thank you!

You are so very welcome.

Most unique lodging had to the be fire tower in the mountains of southwestern Oregon. Was able to rent overnight through the forest service. Reading other travelers' entries in the log book/diary (and adding our own) was fun - until we got to the one recounting the infestation of brown recluse spiders in the nearby outhouse.


Is anyone else creeped out that a plane can just disappear like this? I don't have any air travel planned, and I know all about the statistical probabilities, but that doesn't make the weird feeling go away about a big airliner just disappearing.

Totally. . .

None at all, when we were in college and would go camping in national parks with just our sleeping bags -- we were too poor to own a even pup-tent then! -- so first we'd put a thick layer of old newspapers on the ground, then blow up our cheap air-mattresses, then unroll our sleeping bags.

Totally rugged style. Love it!

took a cargo boat up the river in Ghana -- that alone was an experience. Slept on deck though most the Ghanaians slept on STACKED palettes with their animals. I didn't have a blanket or anything and, well, since we had to wait all day for the boat to fill, I'd spent part of it with a lovely German guy....who was kind enough to share while on the boat. Two days later he + I, and 2 other couples we met, decided to share a taxi into town and book into a convent which rented rooms. We all proceeded to...well....let's just say the walls were thin and we could tell that each couple had a great time before we met up for dinner that night and touring the next two days.....

I assume they were playing cards really loudly, right?

Realization of the weekend: husband and I figure (hope) we have 20 good years of travel left in us, and can probably afford one trip a year. We've been to England, Belguim, the Netherlands, the Caribbean... but there's so many places we haven't been! Recommended reading? Must see locations? Argh! Did you guys do a special article on this and I missed it? Feeling overwhelmed.

It's such a personal decision based on interests, budget, time-constraints, etc. How about starting by picking an intinerary from each continent (except Antarctica, although you can visit there via a cruising expedition). For example, how about a trip to  Australia, stopping in Hawaii on the way out and the South Pacific islands on the way back. The next year, hit Cape Town for a few days and then go on a safari. The following year, do a tour of several national parks in the Western U.S. Put the most energetic tours in the beginning of the 20-year plan, saving the river cruises and that ilk for later in the game.  

Given the tit-for-tat Visa denials on both sides, should I be overly concerned that my scheduled trip to Russia through Road Scholar could be canceled by the political situation? I have until May 31 to make my full payment for this trip and I'm wondering if I should reconsider. I have purchased travel insurance.

It's hard to say. At the moment, I'd say don't worry, but how far out is your trip? I suggest you stay in close touch with Road Scholar and ask them for periodic updates on their plans as the situation evolves. If the company cancels the tour, they should give you a refund, but doublecheck on their refund policies.

As a child, on a long road trip we ended up sleeping on the floor of a roundhouse (traditional community building) on a remote reservation to which we have some distant family connections. I'm not sure what questions my parents would have asked to elicit the offer of that particular space, but it certainly did leave an impression.

Some family secrets are best kept locked up!

It's the Toronto Harbour Castle but I think that deal applies to all Westin properties. You just have to look under the promo section of their web site. Think it's called birthyear promo. I think I finally ended up calling Westin's 800 # to get it.


two rather odd sleeping places -- one in the loft of a cow barn in Salzburg the other on a tatami mat on the floor of a traditional Japanese ryokan near Mt Fuji.

Hope the cow didn't try to spoon with you!

help - trying to decide on a summer vacation other than the beach for me, husband and 5 tweens for a week and keep it under $6k. That means probably no airfare. Any ideas? All I come up with is NY and Boston for a few days each.

A different two-city road trip you could do would be Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Both have baseball, zoos and plenty of kid-friendly attractions. Or maybe Philadelphia and Amish country. Or a West Virginia resort, such as Snowshoe, where you can rent a condo and do tons of fun outdoor activities.

Meiji Shrine! An oasis right in the middle of the city (close to Omotesandoo and Harajuku shopping districts), plus a wonderful shop for authentic Japanese gifts.

Great advice. Thanks!

We went out with Guide Gunnar one night (can't recall the name of the tour company we did for the second night). We also did a dogsledding tour with Lyngsfjord and it looks like they do northern lights tours as well.

Here are the links for Guide-Gunnar and Lyngsfjord Adventures

Flew up to Boston for husband's business on a Friday one early October (about four decades ago), then rented a car to go leaf-peeping in New Hampshire. Didn't realize that some hotels/motels would be closed for the season, while the rest were booked solid. Wound up sleeping in the Jordan Marsh parking lot at a mall, then raced in the door of the nearby Howard Johnson's at opening time the next AM for breakfast (and first to use the bathrooms!). Lucky thing the car rental place had been out of the economy car we'd reserved so we'd wound up with a full-size car, with more space for one sleeper in the front seat and the other in the back seat, although even that was by no means comfortable.

Car City Hotel is good for one night; two is pushing it!

The mention of chaperoning youth trips reminded me of a couple of trips in my own youth. God bless my dad, he thought multi-night trips with 6th graders were fun! First one was to Hershey, PA, from upstate New York, with ~25 kids. Two nights, in tents at a campground near Hersheypark. First night, torrential rains. The adults were in the laundry room all night drying sleeping bags, while the kids crashed in cars and on picnic tables in a covered pavilion. The tents were hung from the pavilion rafters to dry. Second experience was much more fun! I don't know if they still do this, but Mystic Seaport (Mystic, CT) used to host school groups on board one of their ships for overnight stays. We were there for I think three nights. Students got the fo'c'stle (front of the ship) and midships in triple-stacked bunks, while the chaperones got the officer quarters at the rear. Truly a fantastic experience, especially for those kids who had never left our little corner of New York, much less seen the ocean.

What wonderful stories. In the same vein, you can also sleep on the Battleship New Jersey.

An old boyfriend and I were camping at a campgrounds near Thurmont, MD. He had hoped for something more off-the-beaten-path, so when we met a local in a bar there we asked for suggestions. He led us to his buddy's farm where not only were they fine with us pitching a tent in their field, but we got to do some great fishing in their stocked farm pond. The lumpy grass-bunches on the ground weren't as comfortable as the flat camping pad, but the adventure was worth it!

Ask and you shall receive an adventure!

I hate, hate, hate snakes and go way out of my way to avoid them. I agreed to chaperone a Girl Scout trip to a zoo and was just planning to avoid the reptile house and play with the monkeys. Needless to say, we got to spend the night in the classroom with the 6 foot, human eating snake (The zoo keepers claimed she was nice and offered to take her out to play-- I did not want any part of that!). I survived, but did not get a wink of sleep with the giant snake about 2 feet away.

Agree. Not a sleeping companion I would ever want, even if he/she kept the mice away.

I think you will be fine in flying. You can fly out west for say <$400 per RT so $2000 there+ $300/week for rental car. $1200 for lodging and the rest for food and gas and other things.

All true, but remember it's for seven people. That really stretches the budget.

Even if you take the train to Caen or Bayeux, you will need a car or a tour to get you to the beaches. But it is easier to rent a car in Caen (there's an AVIS rental car office across from train station). The 2nd time we went to Normandy, we just rented a car in Paris and drove. It wasn't hard at all. Good roads, excellent signage (except at some roundabouts); Bring a gps or iPad with driving maps to aid your map reading.

Thanks everyone for joining us today.

For today's winner: the traveler who spent the night in Masai digs and hired a lion bouncer. Please send me your contact info (and headgear size -- kidding) at

Have a great week and come back next Monday!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Travel editor.
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.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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