Talk about Travel

Apr 08, 2013

Talk about Travel is here to help at 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.

Happy Monday, travelers! Thanks for being here today -- with us instead of outside in that lovely spring weather. This weekend, we took you all over the globe: Costa Rica, Vicksburg and Beijing. The Beijing story talked about the sprawling city's hutongs, or back alleys. What have been your favorite, even hidden, neighborhoods you've discovered in your travels? Best answer gets the prize. Here we go!

Going to France this summer. First overseas trip in 15 years. Do you have recommendations for securing my luggage, valuables, purse, etc? I keep hearing about scammers and pickpockets in Paris. I'm a careful traveler but wonder if there is something specific I should be doing. Thanks

I've never had any trouble in Paris whatsoever. If you exercise normal caution, you should be fine. Keep your purse close at all times. Don't respond to the "beggars" who try to hit you up outside the main attractions like the Louvre. Don't keep anything in a back pocket, where it can be swiped without your noticing. If you're especially concerned about your valuables and passport, either lock them in your hotel room safe or give them to the front desk to lock up for you, or get a pouch that you can wear inside your clothing.

HI! My husband and I will be in Seattle from April12-15. What are your must see/must do recommendations for the area including one day for a side trip? Also, some great local restaurants? Thanks.

Where to start? We didn't hit up too many museums and indoor activities, but in the "musts" that I saw, I would put in Pike Place Market, the Theo Chocolate factory tour and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Even though the ride is short, taking the monorail is fun. (Yeah, we skipped the Space Needle. Consider the taller Columbia Center instead.) I also really enjoyed hiking around Discovery Park. The Woodland Park Zoo is nice.


Restaurants I liked in Seattle: Serious Pie/Serious Biscuit, Chan (their site appears down at the moment), Portage Bay Cafe and Top Pot Doughnuts.


Beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, would make a great side trip. You can take the Clipper from downtown Seattle. Or you could stay stateside and visit the San Juan Islands.

hi, i live in DC and plan to travel to (girls getaway style) to Cabo in late august. I am flexible as to which airport i depart from - but i'm not seeing any good deals right now. I don't mind a connection. should i be looking for flights out of NY or Philly instead? Thanks for your help.

I am seeing flights on American from Reagan National to the nearest airport in Cabo (San Jose Del Cabo) for about $611, with a connection in Dallas. The flight from JFK is about $50 less, but the cost and time of getting to New York is not worth the savings in my opinion.

If anything, try to get a cheap flight to Los Angeles (check Virgin America's sales), then to Cabo.

A recent trip to Rome via Lufthansa resulted in my luggage not arriving with me on Mar 21st. I was only re-united with my luggage on Apr 5th, the day I was departing Rome. I recovered my luggage from lost and found, only to re-check it for my departure, having never opened the luggage while on vacation. Is there any claim I can make with Lufthansa? The one-page sheet they provided was the means to trace my baggage online or to contact them. Today the website still says the luggage has not been found. And the phone numbers they provided never worked. I want to be able to claim the maximum allowable, even though my luggage was eventually returned to me. When I asked the agent how to make a claim, she provided me with a fax number. Of course, there is no one to talk to regarding my claim. She stated the case is now close and I informed her it was far from being closed. Any thoughts on my approach to Lufthansa to provide me the maximum I am allowed?

I'm sorry to hear about your lost luggage. Unfortunately, all luggage claims have to be made within 24 hours of your loss, so even if you had a case (and I'm not saying you do) the 24-hour rule would prevent you from collecting any damages from Lufthansa.

My extended family is traveling to Mexico over Christmas and I wanted to look into group travel discounts. What's a reasonable amount of discount to expect? The United online request form asks for a requested price, and I'm not sure whether to put in something that would be a great deal or just a small discount off the current fare for our dates of travel.

I've not seen airlines offer significant discounts for groups. Instead, it seems as if the airlines offer a discount of between five and ten percent from their standard, rather than sale, fares. You may very well get a better deal going with an economy sale fare. I'd fill out the form based on what I want to pay, within reason (they're not going to give you a deep, deep discount just because you requested it). But whatever the airline offers, compare it to the going rate before you book. 

Hi - My parents live outside of Boston and I live in DC. They usually come down to DC for a visit every spring but this year, for various reasons, we decided to meet somewhere in the middle. Everyone will be driving. Can you think of a fun location to meet for a weekend? There are no young children and everyone enjoys historical sites, art, gardens, outdoors. We are considering Philly and NYC but everyone has been there many times so we thought we could try something different. Thanks so much in advance for any ideas!

Have your Philadelphia travels taken you to the Brandywine Valley? Lots of history, art, gardens and outdoors there. Sites include Longwood GardensNemours Mansion and Gardens and Brandywine River Museum (which includes the Andrew Wyeth Studio and N.C. Wyeth House and Studio).

I'm flying on a Monday morning at 6am from Reagan to Miami (yeah!). What time should I arrive at Reagan? Thanks.

I always take 6 a.m. flights from National and usually arrive by 5 a.m. I only take carry-on and check in online. If you are checking bags, give yourself an extra 15 minutes or so.

Wow - really enjoyed the piece on Beijing. Having been to the Orchid last year, the story captured the sense of the Hutong, the budding commerce there, and the the open question of if this classic piece of old Beijing can be saved from redevelopment without being evolved out of existence. The description of Joel Shuchat (the hotelier) was spot-on, and the Orchid really is an unexpected oasis. He offered first-rate advice (and set up a fantastic private tour to the Great Wall for us) despite seeming a bit weary and wary of it all. Truth be told, experiencing the daily life in the Hutong was the most vivid and remarkable part of the Beijing trip - even as things like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall blur into the collective memories of past travels. The only thing better than a travel piece taking you somewhere new is for it to take you back to a special place. Thanks for the update on the neighborhood!

So glad you liked the story. Thanks for sharing!

I'm headed to Atlanta in a few weeks - it'll be my first time going there. Will I need a car to get around to tourist destinations beyond downtown, or will public transit there be extensive enough to get to some of the local sights? I've read that cabs can be unreliable there, so I want to have my bases covered. Thanks for your help!

Not sure where you want to go from Atlanta, but the MARTA system doesn't extend very far.  Traffic is also pretty bad, so I'd likely figure out my itinerary, and then make a decision from there. But if you want to go outside of Fulton or DeKalb counties, you'll likely need a car. 

Three things: 1. On the Metro, beware of pack of young people (12-14), even girls. Pickpockets! 2. Outside the Louvre, don't fall for the dropped ring scam. A scammer will produce what looks like a gold ring, say she just found it, and offer it to you--and then demand 5 euros. I fell for it one day, and the same woman tried to get me again the next! 3. Outside Sacre Couer, there are men in their 20s who will call you over and bind your hands with string, as a game--then demand money to free you. I scared them off with my best rough-house New York accent. But really, no different from any other city, and safer than most. Just don't be stupid.

Exactly. Thanks! I ran into that dropped-ring scam in Florence; everybody's trying the same old tricks all over the place. Have a read of this story we ran a few months ago about Paris pickpockets

Surely the most hidden "neighborhood" I have ever been in was on the island of Saba (near St. Martin). The country has one road, appropriately called One Road. At the north end of it, you can hike up to the rainforest. About 20 years ago, during my first trip to the Caribbean, I walked among "Alice in Wonderland"-size plants that wove near a few houses, if that qualifies as a neighborhood (I'm sure the neighbors feel it does). At a clearing, I turned around and looked back at the most amazing lush green landscape and the bluest water I had ever seen, and I cried with joy for the opportunity to see such an amazing view for myself.


The summer before last I was in Seattle for a meeting, and stayed at a huge, anonymous downtown hotel. My husband joined me after the meeting and we moved to a lovely rented cottage on Capitol Hill. It turned out to be a great choice. Loads of fantastic coffee shops and restaurants and bars within easy walking distance. I'd recommend the guest house, which was owned by an artist, but it was sold shortly after we stayed there and is now owner occupied by some lucky person.

Ah, yes, we had lots of recommendations for that neighborhood but didn't make it out there. Next time!

Don't forget Hagley Mills, a fascinating history site that was the DuPont's original powder mills. Watch a water-powered mill operate, and for those who don't care about that, tour the original Dupont mansion.

I assume you mean Hagley Museum and Library. It does sound neat.

I will be traveling with my husband and 2 year old to Denver in June. I am looking for any and all suggestions on things to do in Denver and not that far away. We would have loved to have gone to Mesa Verde but that is too far. Any advice at all is welcome. Thanks.

Denver is great for kids, with an entertaining mix of indoor and outdoor activities.

Some options: the Denver Zoo,  the Downtown Aquarium, the Children's Museum, the Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center, the Platte River Trolley, Lollipop Park, Elitch Gardens theme park and Wizard's  Chest. For a day trip, head out to Dinosaur Ridge in nearby Morrison. You can also rent bikes and cycle along more than 850 miles of paved off-road trails. A number of rental shops offer kid-attachments to adult bikes.

Hi, thanks so much for these chats. They are incredibly helpful. 6 of us are traveling to Hawaii on a 10 day trip in June. we are debating whether to take travel insurance or not. Any tips on what to consider when picking a travel insurance company/plan? Also, is it advisable to do 3 islands in 10 days? Right now we are planing on big island and Mauii. We were hoping to stay on the volcano side but found out that that side may not be accessible if the volcano errupts. In that case may be we can actually cram 3 islands in 10 days is my thinking. Your input is greatly appreciated.

Sounds like fun! Your travel insurance question is difficult to answer without knowing more about your trip. How much are you spending? Do you have a pre-existing medical condition that might result in a claim? As a general rule, sticking to the big travel insurance companies (Allianz, CSA TripMate) is a safe bet. Here's a helpful list of companies. Regarding your Hawaii question, three islands is a little ambitious. I would stick to the Big Island and Maui, unless you like a frenetic schedule -- and if you do, then by all means, try Oahu or Kauai.

I missed the chat last week, but I wanted to add my 2 cents, in case the OP is still reading this week. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-do for 3 year olds. If the kids just love marine life, the Seymour Center in Santa Cruz has been recommended to me but I've never been. California State Park Point Lobos, just about 20 minutes south of Monterey, has easy-to-do trails and great vistas -- great for preschoolers to run around. An hour north and inland from Monterey is Gilroy, where there is the Gilroy Gardens, a small amusement park that has some good rides for little ones; make sure you go on a weekday to avoid the lines. Sacramento I think would be a bore for 3 year olds, and I think you would be better off to being in SF itself, with the cable cars and waterfront. (Take a picnic lunch to the Marina Green and enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge while the kids run around.) Lots of stuff to do in Northern California!! :)


What's your favorite way to book Disney travel? (Disney website, AAA, travel agent, whatever). Thanks.

Well, I've only ever booked one Disney trip myself, and that was through the Disney site. Very easy. Anyone else tried another method they can recommend?

The Husband and I want to get out of the country in early to mid May for a quick 4-5 day trip. He particularly wants to go to Europe (we've loved London, Berlin, Paris and Stockholm). I particularly do not want to be cold :) Any suggestions for places where temps might hover around 70+ during the day? We love cities, walking, museums, eating/drinking, taking in local culture, etc. Don't need beaches, trails, etc. We like our outdoor hikes to be paved and with a glass of wine or a pint at the end of it. And if flights are $1000 each or less, super gold star bonus. Thanks for any ideas!

How about Barcelona or Madrid? I'm seeing one-stops out of BWI to Barcelona and Madrid for as low as $833. Temperatures are already in the 60s and 70s, so in a couple of weeks, it should be perfect. Similarly, think about Lisbon. Fares maybe a bit higher than Barcelona, but still less than $1,000. Just book soon!

Hi, We are driving from Boston to Raleigh. Will have a week from the Friday of Memorial Day weekend to the following Friday to reach Raleigh. We are trying to figure out the best places to stop along the way. We have 3 young kids and I'm looking at the map and Chesapeake Bay area looks very interesting and found recommendations for Chincoteague on Trip Advisor. I don't know anything about it and just looking at Google maps and trying to find some interesting places away from the big cities. The Chesapeake Bay area seems huge and wondering if it's a good place for a vacation and any other recommendations.

If you drove straight through, it would take only 11 hours via the most direct route, so a week is a long time for this drive unless you are stopping for several days at a time.  You also have to take beach traffic into account. Memorial Day weekend is a crazy travel time if you're heading anywhere near a beach. Chesapeake Bay offers lots of variety, and Chincoteague is a very nice town located not far from the bay, but, again, you'd have to wade through a lot of beach traffic to get there. Have you thought about doing an inland route that would take you through Shenandoah National Park?  

I'm getting married in the fall, yay! and my future husband and I want to go on our honey moon right after we marry, double yay! Originally, our idea is to go and relax at the Floriday Keys. My question is, is October a good month for Florida travel, or should we look elsewhere?

Temperature-wise, October is a great time to visit Florida, plus the crowds are down, unless you go to Key West over Halloween. Prices are also lower, since it is shoulder season. The one risk: October is still hurricane season, and the Keys are vulnerable to storms.

If you are worried about hurricanes, check out one of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) outside the hurricane belt.

Does anyone know if there are golf courses in Paris or along a train/bus route? If you've played, is it worth the effort? (We have plenty of time to see all the sites, and we really like golf.)

There are tons of courses in or near Paris. Check out for a list. I'm not a golfer, so I can't recommend any particular ones -- maybe Disneyland Paris? Let's throw that part of the question out to the chatters.

Hello. Two females, mid-40s, will be traveling to Iceland mid-May for almost 4 full days. Day two (Friday) will be a volcano and glacier walk day tour. We plan to spend our last day (Sunday) at the Blue Lagoon and have lunch at LAVA. A friend who traveled there last fall recommends Fish Market and The Fish Company for some of our meals. We will walk around Reykjavik on Thursday when we land. Since our time is fairly limited, what sites/activities would you recommend for Thursday and Saturday (day and evening)? We will probably hit some bars and visit Church of Hallgrímur. My friend is a history fan, but I prefer music and arts. Which museums would you recommend? Is it worth purchasing Visitor cards? Should we go whale watching? Splurge on Perlan? Thank you for your advice!

Iceland travelers, care to weigh in? I know you're out there!

One of my favorite hidden finds while travelling was in Beijing's hutongs, but not the type that your article mentions. Three years ago, I explored the maze-like hutongs that the Olympic development had passed by. I peered into dwelling entrances jammed with the residents' bikes below their suspended clothes hung for drying. I wandered through hutongs where homes did not have private baths, so there were public bathrooms for the residents. Amidst the hutongs near the drum tower (mentioned in the article), I saw a child sent out to catch a goose from a family's flock, living in a small patch of grass amidst the warren of alleys, his grandmother (?) ready to prepare the goose for dinner. Once, I heard a strange noise ahead and turned the corner to find a little convenience store selling bottled drinks; they had a cricket in a little wicker cage, chirping about his own offerings, I guess. If these remaining hutongs were razed to build better housing for the residents, that would be one thing. But it saddens me to think that a way of life is ending for massive development that will merely displace the residents.

Google Chrome is telling me that this chat is in Portuguese, and do I want it translated. This peculiar message also popped up last week on the food chat.

Yeah, I get that too. It's not just our site. Seems like a Chrome bug. Sometimes it tells me Facebook needs to be translated. Or one of our internal sites it's convinced is in Estonian. Sigh.

From last week a few posted questions. One posted about a one way rental from Missoula to aren't going to fnd deals. Part of the reason is Missoula is small thus rental rates are going to be higher. You are better off flying in and out of Portland and do a loop trip. In Portland things to do....Saturday market, Powell's books, food trailers, Japanese garden, Columbia gorge.

For the mother who wrote in on March 11th asking about a "little different" trip to England, I second your recommendation of the Lake District. I was in Keswick (North Lake District) last week and loved it! Keswick is accessible via public transportation, as are many walks, since parking facilities at trailheads are extremely limited, and authorities are trying to discourage the use of cars. Take the train to Penrith, then Stagecoach bus; buy a 3-day or 7-day regional bus pass from Stagecoach. Using public transportation virtually assures you of mingling with the locals. I did some walks on my own, but also did two walks with KR Guided Walks. At only 20 pounds/person for full-day walks by qualified guides, this is a great bargain. Alison and Halle were especially engaging; they lead walks on Mondays. On both KR walks I was the only non-English person in the group (8 walkers on one day, 6 on the other). With no guided walks scheduled for the next day, I got together with a woman from the group for another full-day walk. There were also free walks advertised on the bulletin board outside TI at Moot Hall. Badgers Wood B&B on Stanger Street in the heart of Keswick could not have been more perfect. Be sure to take good boots, broken in, but you can get any other gear you need or want at one of the many local outfitters at good prices. I should add that the reason for my trip was to attend the wedding of an English friend I met on a walking holiday in Wensleydale 1990; we've been friends ever since. Walking in England is a great way to meet locals.

Thanks for the tip!

I'm getting married in a month or so. Circumstances dictate that we have only one night and one day for a honeymoon. We'll do a real one later. Any ideas? We'll go to Annapolis if no other option presents itself. Prefer urban and history to outdoors and natural history.

If you only have one night, keep it simple. You are going to be exhausted after the wedding festivities and probably don't want to run around museums and historic sites. Any of the usual suspects would fit your needs: Philly, Charlottesville, Baltimore.

If you do have enough energy, I would recommend a destination less than two hours by plane, such as Boston or Montreal.

Is there such a thing as a good time of year for an adult Disney trip? Not looking for a no-kid time, just maybe a fewer kids time. Possible?

I think so. Try a time when kids are in school, like fall when it starts or January/February after winter break is over.

I should also add that there's a "best" time of day for adults. Early morning is good, because most families have a heckuva time getting their little ones out of bed and over to the park. And late in the evening for the fireworks, when the youngest children are already asleep. There's also an hour after lunch (1 t o2 p.m.) when many parents try to keep their little ones out of the hot sun, when the adults can play. But no guarantees. I am heading over to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow, and I intend to follow my own advice. Wish me luck!

On Mont St. Michel! When we visited, it was the last day of school in France and the main road that winds up the mont to the Abbey was full of school kids on fieldtrips, so my husband looked at a staircase and said, "Let's go!" We were away from the hordes and in a sweet little area where the locals live. Little houses on little terraces, and even a tiny cemetery. A sweet memory.

 Mesa Verde is about a seven-hour drive. Closer option is Rock Mountain National Park. To the south, you have Pikes Peak and Canon City.

Thanks for the tips.

ah, the Montmartre "friendship bracelet" or whatever it is! Yes, do *not* stop for these chaps; just yell at them....and do beware of groups of young girls, pushing past you on the escalator, for example.

Too late for the person who wanted to know last week what to do in Galway, Ireland. May be of interest to others. The small city of Galway itself is the gateway to the region known as Connemara in the west of the county and adjoining parts of Co Mayo. Numerous organized Day Tours (Galway Tour Company; Lally Tours; Healy Tours, for example) to both Connemara and The Burren area to the south in neighboring Co Clare. Between Galway and Dublin - with some deviations off the motorway and onto narrower, twisty roads - these are a few recommendations, especially if you are interested in history, archaeology and, ruins, in particular: East Galway Ecclesiastical Sites (Red Route on Map). If your time is limited, opt for Clonmacnoise (close to Athlone). Also, within ten miles of Athlone - this time north of the town - is Rindoon and St John's Castle - ruins of a medieval town, now partially being restored. After all that history, or, a rainy day alternative, a distillery tour of Kilbeggan Distillery and Locke's Museum might be another option, closer to Dublin and east of Athlone.

Tons of info here. Appreciate it.

going to Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia this summer.... 1. I have an unlocked call phone...can I get a SIM card that will work for all countries or do I need to get one for each? 2. I've got two weeks and a friend said that's plenty of time.....I value art and nature. A couple of churches will suffice renting a car, given my short time, necessary? WIll bus/train be okay? thanks! Love your chats!!!

Not sure that you'll get the cheapest deal on a SIM card that would work in all three places. You may be better off buying cheap local cards once you get there. If you want to stick to the bigger cities, public transport will suffice, although it will take some serious planning to put an itinerary together. If you want to go into more rural areas, a car would be better. 

And, for your reading pleasure, here's our story on Tallinn from the other year.

Hi. My 12-year-old granddaughter is a fashionista of the highest order. (I'm not kidding). I would love to take her and maybe her mother and a cousin to NYC on a fashion weekend. I'm sure there's a museum or two, but I'm particularly interested in street fashion, wherever that may be. Any ideas?

Definititely hit up the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology; current/recent exhibits include "Shoe Obsession," "Fashion and Technology" and "Boots: The Height of Fashion." Another good place for high fashion and art (on the walls and wandering through the galleries): the  Museum of the International Center of Photography, near Bryant Park, the former site of the fashion shows.

For street fashion, go down to the Village and just stare at people, or shoot over to Williamsburg in Brooklyn (lots of witty mustaches, and boutiques to match). Wander around the indie shops and consignment shops downtown, such as Ina and Buffalo Exchange.  And check out the sample sales; you can find a list of weekly sales through Daily Candy (sign up for the newsletter). I picked up some cheap J. Crew items at a sample sale a few years ago. They are still in style -- even if only ironically.

For other hipster fashion events, read Time Out NY--  on your iPhone, of course.

My husband and I (60s) love Disneyworld -- just the two of us. We always go in April or October and never run into crowds. Have fun!

The absolute best time to go to Disney World is mid-late October. Most people won't take their kids out of school in the fall, the weather is as good as it gets in central Florida...

Another vote for October. My brother- and sister-in-law did an October honeymoon there. Loved it.

so much nicer to do it thru an agent - they can help with so many questions. i have done it myself and thru an agent - and the agent was incredibly helpful and knowledgable about all the properties, where to eat, etc etc. and it wasn't more expensive. Get the 'unofficial guide to walt disney world' which is awesome and helpful (they even have an app now!).

chances are high you would need a car, depending on where you're going. You can take a bus to the zoo, for example, but that might take a while depending on where you're going. Saying that - many of the places you might want to go are probably on MARTA. Centennial park, coca cola museum, aquarium, CNN center, - all on MARTA. If the zoo might be the only place other than that - don't get a car. There are cabs around, but mainly either downtown or you have to call them, but they are not inexpensive. There's also the botanical gardens (awesome!) - and that's RIGHT next door to piedmont park (all on MARTA basically). Federal reserve is right there too - tiny little museum, but interesting. Fox theater you can get to via marta too. But mostly - things aren't accessible, but I would try to just get to stuff that IS accessible, as driving is NOT fun!!!!


".... all luggage claims have to be made within 24 hours of your loss, ......" What constitutes making a claim? If you tell the airline "my luggage isn't here" and they say "We'll find it and deliver it to you," have you made a claim? Or do you have to say "give me money?" Is it "lost" when it doesn't arrive or not until the airline officially says "we can't find it" or what? It sounds like you could be penalized if you patiently give the airline a chance to find your stuff and they don't.

Typically, a claim must be filed within 24 hours of the flight. I've seen airlines deny perfectly good claims when the rule wasn't observed.

We usually rent a house/condo in the Outer Banks for a restful week. This year, we're a little strapped and may not be able to spend as much. Any ideas for a rejuvenating week somewhere that may be a bit more affordable? Maybe Deep Creek Lake? Camping is not an option.

Deep Creek Lake could work. Also West Virginia. My family always enjoyed renting a condo at Deerfield Village in Canaan Valley.

Anyone out there (preferably living in the US) who has traveled to a Pakistani city and is willing to share tips and tricks?

Anyonnnnnnee out there?

Can you help with tips and tricks please?

we went right after new years (as in we arrived on Jan 1). It was - for disney - pretty empty. We had kids, and there were certainly a lot of people there. We arrived about 15 min before the gates opened, and we were so close we could see the 'opening' performance. I suppose all of jan/feb is like that. that's not to say that there are no lines, etc, but it was most definitely not incredibly crowded. ALSO - Disney says the most visitors (except from FL) come from NY. So they DO keep an eye on the New york school systems' schedules. So if NY schools are in - you're better off. I.e., I lived in GA and our schools were out a month before NY schools. We went RIGHT after school was out once, and it wasn't crowded as much as it would have been a month later.

Yep, that's a great week. Also, the week after Thanksgiving and the week after Labor Day are pretty good. But don't tell anyone!

Wondering about events that require tickets and when to get them for the Christmas Holidays and suggestions for Christmas Dinner. We would like to attend the Christmas Eve Norte Dame International Service... and/or other Christmas Services you recommend. And of course suggestions for affordable shopping...

Let's tackle the shopping first -- hit the many Christmas markets that spring up all around Paris at the holidays. They sell wonderful crafts and French specialties from all around the country. There are markets on the Champs Elysee, the Boulevard Saint German, at Saint Suplice and Notre Dame and more. I totally recommend Notre Dame for Christmas Eve. Lots of people flock there, but it's a big church! There's also St. Germain-des-Pres, a beautiful, beautiful old church -- oldest in Paris -- that doesn't get as much attention as Notre Dame but is just fabulous. One of the big things to do in the winter is to ice skate at one of the many open-air rinks that are set up all around the city. I'm not sure what events will require tickets -- if you mean the regular attrations, like the Louvre, you could probably buy your tickets right now online. The earlier the better, for major holidays. As for Christmas dinner, there are some restaurants that stay open on Christmas day -- here's a list. Again, I'd reserve sooner rather than later, at least a month in advance. Chatters, your advice?

Planning a trip to Prince Edward Island for August, and am wondering if anyone (writers or chatters) has recommendations for the best part of the island to stay on? We're hoping to rent a cottage or air bnb home. Looking for great views, proximity to the water, not too touristy--but does this describe the island as a whole? Any advice is much appreciated, thanks so much in advance!

Jealous! OK, chatters, help us out.

I hope to spend a day-trip in Philadelphia on Friday. I've taken Amtrak before but will be driving this time. Do you have any advice for finding parking around center city? I plan to visit the Reading Terminal Market, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and then see a show downtown at night. Thank you!

I would just stick your car in a lot and forget about it for the day. The Philly Parking Authority has a list of garages in different neighborhoods. For the list, see here. (Metered parking is about $2 an hour --or more if you forget to add more $$.)  The city's tourism office also has parking deals on its site.

thanks - I've never rented a car in another country. What should I be aware of? How will I get the best deals?

Watch out for mandatory insurance requirements, which are known to be issues in Israel, Mexico and Ireland. And in Europe, they've been pretty agressive with damage claims lately. I would rent through one of the major brands or AutoEurope.

I'm headed to Rio at the end of the month - it's my first time in Brazil. We are staying in Copacabana, and have already made plans for a day trip to Petropolis and reservations for a steak house. Any other tips? What about safety tips? I've been to Buenos Aires, Lima, and Bogota, but people are really freaking me out about safety in Rio.

Here's a story we had the other year that addresses some of your safety concerns. It certainly helps to travel in a group. Based on recent events, you'll probably want to avoid van services.

I have what seems like a silly question:  I am going on a beach vacation and want to bring along spray sunscreen (in an aerosol can). Am I allowed to bring that on an airplane? Is it allowed in limited quantities? Thanks!

You can. If it's in your carry-on, it's subject to the 3-1-1 rule for liquids, gels and aerosols. If it's in your checked bag, bring as much as you want. Just make sure it stays in a plastic baggie so it doesn't make a mess!

I will be spending 3 days in Savannah later this month. Would you have recommendations on must-see and must-do in that area? Thanks!

I sadly have never been.
Chatters, can you offer some insider advice?

I am attending a family reunion in Spokane over the Labor Day weekend. Should I lock in my airline fare now, or is there a chance the prices will go down in the coming months? Some relatives have already bought, but I need to be sure I'm getting good value and I'll be buying a non-refundable ticket. So the question is, when is the best time to buy it, now or later?

Very rarely do I see sale fares to Spokane. And whenever a holiday is involved, sale fares get even more difficult to find. Try Southwest out of BWI, although I don't think it'll be much cheaper. I'd just buy it and not look back. 

Joe, I enjoyed reading about your veggie food options in Phila, but you neglected to mention my personal favorite, New Harmony. It is a large menu but heavy on the mock meat options. Back when I was a full vegetarian in the early 90s, there was nothing quite like going to a restaurant and knowing I could order anything on the menu and not have to ask how it was made or if it contained meat.

Joe is traveling today, but we're saying thanks on his behalf!

I just returned from a week in Paris and London, but I had no moments of concern. I kept my money in a pocket inside my jacket and had my camera and umbrella in my purse. Passports and extra cash we kept in the hotel safe. There will certainly be more tourists over the summer than in March, but I felt safer in Paris and London this go around than when I first traveled there 15 years ago. Enjoy!

More on safety in Paris. Thanks!

Live there...side trip to Victoria or the San Juan's is an overnight trip. You could do a day trip drive taking the car ferry from mulkateo to whidby island...a few state parks. Near mulkateo ferry you have a seafood restaurant. Also near mulkateo you could take a tour of the Boeing plant. On the north side of town you also have the Edmonds ferry that you could day trip to port Townsend. The other side trip to do along with port Townsend is to do Sequim. There are wineries near there and lavender farms. Other winery hot spot is woodenvile. To the south you have Tacoma --- glass museum--- farther south is Olympia and the state Capitol. All around the are at this time start farmers markets. There are about 12 quality ones. It isn't just farmers stuff, it's also artisan foodies and arts and crafts. This weekend in Skagit is the tulip festival. Big thing to do. Large crowds.

Thanks for the insider advice. Bainbridge Island is another option. Easy to get there on the ferry.

Wondering if you wouldn't want to stay close to home ... is that DC? Perhaps it would be nice to be in a plush hotel for a day in DC and relax and unwind, maybe with a spa treatment.

Great idea.  The Capella just opened in Georgetown. The word on the cobbled street is that it is super-swanky.

Husband and I are looking for a Caribbean destination for our first getaway without baby. Could do a few days or up to a week. Budget isn't unlimited, but we're perfectly happy to splurge. Great food a plus, but mostly we want natural beauty in a not-too-crowded destination. Any favorites?

If you don't mind connecting flights, I'd take a look at St. Lucia -- I've been to islands with nicer beaches, but it is lovely. Also, the Bahamas Out Islands are beautiful. Any other suggestions from chatters? 

I agree. Just look at the PPA site and find lots in the area you plan to visit. I think they also have info on rates which are pretty similar around downtown as you would expect. Park the car and walk if you are able. It's actually fairly easy to get to most places around town on foot if you don't have mobility issues. When I stayed at the Sofitel I found a lot about a block away that was reasonable. And way cheaper than the hotel's valet service. I also parked in the garage under Macy's by City Hall one year when I stayed at the Residence Inn.

I love Mexico City's Chinatown. From the Palacio Bellas Artes you walk one block south and one block west and there is a block filled with Chinese Restaurants, gift shops, and a little park with a rock garden, and a Chinese style arch. It is alway a delight to see and reminds me that Spain's Pacific trade was via Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The poster's account of her ordeal with Lufthansa made me recall my dad's similar "adventures" some decades ago, when he routinely traveled to Germany on business. Lufthansa lost his luggage enough times that he used to suggest that the solution to disposing of spent nuclear fuel and other hazmat was to check it as luggage on a Lufthansa flight, as you would never, ever see it again.

That's funny! I guess the moral of the story is: pack light.

We went about 10 years ago. There aren't many places to stay, that I recall. We stayed in a B&B on the northeastern side. The only restaurant was at the nearby gas station! But, it was scenic and on the water, but I can't remember the name of it. The "city" is a small city and different than staying in the countryside...with all the potatoes (literally!).

So is the best thing to do is make a claim immediately at the airport when it doesn't show up after the flight? You then have options?

Yes, didn't mean to dodge the question. If your luggage is lost, the clock is ticking. Even if it's eventually found somewhere else, you need to be on record, within 24 hours of landing, that the luggage has been misplaced. An agent can authorize you to buy a change of clothes and toiletries, and will let you know how to to file a claim. If you don't let the airline know your luggage is lost in writing, you may never see your bag again and worse, you may not be able to get any money from the airline.

I am making a trip to Philadelphia this weekend with some girlfriends. Is there anything fun (maybe even free) to do on Saturday afternoon? We have a wide range of interests, so could be a museum or something else, we are totally open.

Independence National Historical Park is free (though the tours of Independence Hall require you to get a free ticket). I also had fun wandering around the Italian Market.

A lot of people last week wrote about absolutely delicous-sounding foods. My favorite food memory happens to be from the most boring eating experience ever. While diving in the South China Sea I spent 4 days eating tofu with mixed vegetables for lunch and dinner, plus a banana pancake without the banana - it was always "out" - for breakfast. (We always had banana bread on the dive boat for refueling between dives.) This was because despite offering a vegetarian option, I was given an unknown meat the first night. Problem corrected and every day the single waiter at the dive lodge would tell me "Today we have something special for you! Not part of menu! Tofu mixed vegetable!" Once it was "Tofu mixed vegetable with mushroom!" Still, the 5 days on that teeny island were amazing and I would eat it all over again to go back.

when you say "watch out for mandatory insurance requirements" --do you mean it's not necessary since I have auto insurance at home?

It means that you are required by law to have insurance, and it is usually interpreted as meaning you must carry the agency's insurance.

If she likes cloth the garment district is tons of fun. For fashion history the Metropolitan is brilliant. Why not contact a few upcoming designers and see they'll show her around their design studio?

Fab ideas. Thanks!

This could be a good trip for a travel agent. It should cost you nothing and when you're organizing that many people its a help to have a professional. They can get you good deals on things and put things right. McCabe Travel has a good reputation.

Might make sense to work with someone who specializes in Mexico. You can search for a travel agent by specialty through the American Society of Travel Agents

Other than the 3 capitals, other great places to see include the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, the Amber Museum in Palanga, Lithuania, and Saaremaa Island in Estonia if you have time. In Riga, definitely check out the Occupation Museum of Latvia, which gives a comprehensive overview of recent history. The Ethnographic Open-Air museum outside of Riga is great, too.

Depending where you're located in the DC area, how about Shenandoah National Park and environs?

They wanted a more urban location, but maybe the idea of a cozy cabin in the woods will change their mind.

Not too far, but very quaint.

Also not urban, but you never know!

Spokane is a smaller airport so fares are going to be higher from the east coast. Look instead at Seattle or Portland. Seattle is 4+ hrs, Portland is about 6+ hrs. You could fnd cheaper fare. But since it's a holiday weekend fares will be higher. Fnd a price that fts your budget...take anything if it's under $350 from the east coast.

I don't know that it would be worth eight hours of driving to save $100 to $150 -- probably not. 

Just wanted to second the input from your article on Philadelphia vegetarian places -- Vedge is fantastic. I live in the city and hadn't been until recently. The food was fantastic -- simple but creative and yes, even the meat-eaters among my party were impressed. Service was thorough but not oppressive and the space itself was very comfortable to be in, although a tiny bit loud. Absolutely make a reservation a week or two in advance if you are planning on eating anywhere close to dinner time ... it gets crowded!

I understand the frustration of being without the luggage for the entirety of the OP's vacation but that seems terribly dishonest to me. How can the OP be compensated for items she has in her possession? I would send an email or letter of complaint to their customer service - if they are a smart company they will send some sort of comp (discounted future fare or something?) but to file a claim based on this sounds like fraud. Just like shoplifters cause retailers to raise prices, this type of fraud must result in higher airfare. Don't do it.

I wasn't sure if I understood the initial question correctly, but if I were mediating this, I would get some clarification. Obviously, you can't make a claim for the full amount allowable under the Montreal convention if you also get the luggage back and nothing has been stolen from it. But I would have asked for a clarification before making that determination.

I would HIGHLY suggest photographing your car at pickup and at return, and if possible, do not just drop off keys. Do the checkout inspection with them. A friend rented from Hertz in Riga (so, not a fly-by-night outfit) last summer and they tried to charge over a thousand in damage. The photo they sent as proof of the damage after my friend, of course back in the US by then, challenged the claim showed only some mud.

Great advice. In fact, this is a good practise no matter the destination.

Thanks - we plan to drive, and thought that outside DC would give us the best chance of not running into family here from out of town. Baltimore is sounding good right now, as is Annapolis.

You're welcome, and congrats!

Nowadays, when most tourists visit Berkeley, they go to "Gourmet Gulch" on Shattuck Avenue, because Chez Panisse is there, or Telegraph Avenue just south of the Cal campus. But I grew up near the Elmwood neighborhood, and still love going back to visit there. It's anchored at Ashby and College Avenues, about 1 mile south of the Cal campus, but extends for several blocks along College Avenue in each direction (total distance ca. 1 mile). Funky little shops and cafes, quaint houses with lovely gardens, fairly easy walking.

I'm biased, because my brother-in-law lives there, but I love the eastern part of the island. Montague is a lovely little town, with some nice restaurants, and further east Souris is great as well. The north shore is way more touristy.

The OP should have been offered compensation. I'm not sure if it's an EU rule or not, but when my husband's luggage was delayed, the airline had to give him X amount of euros per day to buy clothes, toiletries, etc until his luggage was returned to him.

on the other hand, if you had no luggage for the whole trip, you clearly had to spend fund to get clothes, toiletries, etc. while you now own those things, it wasn't a cheap or intended purchase. while the airline likely won't help, they SHOULD. it's just a bad experience.

Rome is a mess no matter which airline you fly there on and the OP would probably have equal chance for delayed baggage on Air France or United or whomever....2008 European Airline report had LH as #9 of 12 airlines who reported mishandled bags. Jokes are funny, but facts are facts...

Did you track expenses you incurred because you did not have our luggage during the trip? We flew Lufthansa several years ago and they lost our luggage and we did not receive it until several days after we landed. We submitted a claim for things we had to buy (some clothing/underwear) and received cash from the Lufthansa employee at the airport when we were flying back home.

That does it for today. Thanks for joining us. Today's prize goes to the chatter who recommended Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Way to combine topics! Please send your name and mailing address to me at

See you all next week!

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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