The Washington Post

Talk about Travel: A day in London, European towns in America and more

Jul 14, 2014

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Past Talk about Travel chats

Hi all! I'm back from vacation and raring to answer all your travel q's, so get them ready. Didn't you love our little bit of Europe section this week? I had fun chasing down all the Polish sites in Baltimore, and I know that Andrea fell in love with Little Denmark in Iowa, while Becky was pleasantly surprised by the Portuguese-flavored Ironbound district in Newark. And who knew that the largest Greek American community is in Florida, while San Diego boasts a Little Italy? Tell us about your favorite European "little" in the U.S., and why you like it -- most convincing entry wins a homemade kielbasa (kidding!). Just a little prize from our stash.

Now fire away with those questions!

Any must-haves to ease the discomfort of a 13 hour flight?

Comfortable clothes. Noise-canceling headset. Eye mask. And hope that you aren't between two screaming infants (unless they're your own).

We usually head to the Cape each summer so that five cousins, grandparents and siblings can get together. It won't work this year due to conflicting schedules so we are planning a weekend in New York City instead. Any suggestions for lodging?

I would suggest a hotel with suites, so that you can spread out but also have communal space and be somewhat self-reliant for breakfast. My sister and her family have stayed at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton. It's in Times Square, so it's a bit crazy outside your doorstep, but the room was very spacious. You can also find a Staybridge Suites, SpringHill Suites and Candlewood Suites in the area. Make sure the hotel is near a subway stop, for easy traveling.

If you are part of a hotel loyalty program, you can use your points for one or two of the rooms. Also ask for a group rate.

You could also look into renting individual apartments through Airbnb. For lower rates, check out hotels in Brooklyn or across the Hudson in Jersey, such as Weehawken, Hoboken, etc. From Jersey, you can take the ferry to the city -- a fun commute.

As a native of Connecticut, I'm partial to Wooster Square for pizza, pasta and cannoli. Of course there is the constant debate between Sally's and Pepe's. Many people have this image of Connecticut as a gazebo on the town green and stepford wives (we have that too) but this is New Haven to me.

This is an Italian 'hood, I'm guessing. :-)

Don't like kielbasa that much. So my entry is: Washington's July weather is a *little* like Europe....

Not like kielbasa! Unheard of. . .

I need some guidance/recommendations on how to select a Travel Insurance that covers unrest and political issues. I’m traveling to Israel in November and I already bought the flight tickets. Since there is so much wording in the travel insurance policy I’m wondering what exactly I should be looking for: civil unrest/disorder? war? terrorism? I wonder if the “cancel for any reason” will really cover this type of situation. Will the State department notices qualify to for the “cancel for any reason” coverage?

Collecting on a travel insurance claim for civil unrest, terrorism or a State Department warning is often difficult. That's because policies have specific language, sometimes referred to as named exclusions, that limit an insurance company's liability. (For example, on some policies, terrorism is defined as a specific event that happens within a specific radius of your planned itinerary.) You might be better off with a "cancel for any reason" policy, although there, too, you have to be careful. You'll only get a percentage of your trip back if you cancel, and the policy will cost more -- as much as 10 percent of the value of your trip, or more. I'd check with an expert travel advisor on the area you're visiting, who will be able to guide you through the process of buying the right policy.

I would like to get to Chincoteague island without crossing the Bay bridge from Leesburg VA, is there an alternative route?

It would add about an hour to the trip, but you could head north on I-95 into Delaware. North of Newark, Del., take U.S. 113 south. That will take you through Delaware, past Ocean City. Then you get on a few more roads to get to Chincoteague.

Hello Pani Smardz-- This is not a question, but a "Dziekujemy!" Thank you so very much for putting our Baltimore Polish community on the front page of your Travel section last week. I live in St. Mary's couinty and a friend cut it out to show me since we are not subscribers to the Post. You hit on almost every aspect of what's remaining of our Polish culture in downtown Baltimore. It was especially timely since, as you noted at the end of the article, we will be celebrating our Polish Festival at Timonium fairgrounds next weekend. Please go to my FB Event.  It would be great if you could come! Again, thanks for the great piece on Baltimore's "Little Poland"

Prosze bardzo! Any time I can highlight anything Polish, I love to do it. I'm guessing you're the person who e-mailed me, too (initials C.T.?) Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm sorry I can't make the festival this year, but nastepnym razem! I know it will be great fun, as it has been whenever I've been in the past.

I went to a celebration for bastille day nearby (I'm in portland, oregon). The information I received indicated that Portland has the largest bastille day celebration on the west coast. There were booths from local french restaurants (several that are near where I live), music, booths from local vendors, a wine area, it was really fun!

And today is the actual day. Happy Bastille Day! Or should I say, Heureux Jour de Bastille!

Compression socks can help, too. And walking around on the plane. A lot. Plus bring snacks and a refillable water bottle. No telling if the food on the plane will be good or if the flight attendants will come around with water often enough. Hydrate as much as possible.

Hi there, My DC born-and-raised daughter starts college in Los Angeles next month and I thought we might make it a "welcome to Cali" trip by flying into San Fran and working our way down the coast. Any must dos? Either in San Fran or spots along the drive? Great places to stay? The best route? Thanks!

Drive down the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1), of course! Stop in Monterey, Carmel, San Juan Capistrano (off the highway but worth it), Solvang (also a bit off the highway but great), Santa Barbara. I can't recommend specific places to stay, but maybe the chatters can. People?

My wife and I watched the telecast of the Tour de France as it went through Yorkshire, and we both marveled at the beautiful countryside. Since neither of us is eager to drive in England, we wondered if there are any organized tours that would enable us to visit at least some of the lovely areas that we saw on TV.

Most major tour companies offer escorted trips to England. Collette, Globus, Cosmos and Trafalgar are just a few that come to mind. For a complete list, go to the U.S. Tour Operators Association.  

For the chatter last week--two years ago, we flew from Jo'burg to Port Elizabeth (SA Air actually has good rates also, in-country) , rented a car, and drove around for two weeks. We felt very safe, and it gave us a chance to see this amazing, beautiful country. We had planned our itinerary ahead of time, and I think it's not a bad idea to do some research on where you might go--there are so many choices. We chose to go to the Addo Elephant Park, and then down the Garden Route (lots to do and see on this road), through the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch wine districts, and then to Cape of Good Hope, and back to Cape Town, where we dropped off the car and then spent 3 days before flying home from there. There are other places we didn't get to, and are sorry we couldn't do more, but it was one of the best trips ever. We found lovely people, comfortable lodgings and excellent roads.

I have the fortune of having one day layover in London next week, but I am struggling to put an itinerary together. What would your top recommendations be? the "must see" of the city? Help!

Have you every been to London before? I guess that's important. This is probably too much for a day, but I'd say top contenders include the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, the London Eye, a Thames cruise, the British Museum and the Globe. I also really liked Kensington Palace. So pick what interests you the most!

On ethnic towns, consider Solvang, a Danish enclave, fairly close to Santa Barbara.

Just mentioned it to a chatter who's heading down the California coast.

Is right outside Atlanta...and I went there several times. They are a town where they have decided to emulate a small German town. So everything is basically German and they have Oktoberfest in the fall, also. It's really fun to go there and spend the day and get caught up in it all.


I second the walking around and hydrating early and often. I switched from getting a window seat to aisle seat to make walking around easier (no need to climb over people to get to the aisle)

I am planning to spend a weekend in Seattle in early September visiting a friend. Since I'm flying all the way to the west coast, I'd like to then go somewhere for another two days before making my way back to DC on Wednesday. What would be a good trip extension? So far I've considered taking the train to Portland where I have family, or maybe flying to somewhere in California. If I fly, I'd prefer to go somewhere that Southwest operates out of. However, I don't want to rent a car since I am under 25 and hate those fees for underage drivers. Safety is also important since I am a female traveling alone. Thanks for your suggestions!

Portland is a good thought. Or you could head north via train/bus to Vancouver. Or stay local and explore the San Juan Islands. Or take the Clipper to Vancouver Island. All would be fine for a solo female traveler.

I'm a single woman thinking about taking a week-long vacation abroad, so I'd like to visit a city or two where it's safe and where English is commonly spoken since I speak English and only some broken Spanish. Any suggestions?

London and/or Edinburgh. Or Dublin. Chatters?

If I book a hotel using my hotel loyalty points, am I likely to get an inferior room, or am I just as likely to get a standard room as anyone who is paying? Thank you.

Since you're a loyal customer, the hotel should give you a better room than if you were just a garden-variety guest. After all, you earned the award night by giving the hotel your business, right?

We will be in Canada (Niagara/Montreal/Quebec) for about 1 week. Where is the best place to get Canadian dollars? Is the exchange rate more favorable if I get money from an ATM in Canada? Appreciate your suggestions. Thanks

Generally, yes. That's what I did both times I've been across the border. Very easy.

Hello Travelers! What does adults only really mean at all inclusives? Interested in going December. What is your favorite resort? I'm looking to spend 3-4 nights.

Generally, it means age 18 and older, although you need to check that with the individual resort. All-inclusives cover a range of price points. Middle-of-the-road  Iberostar properties are well-priced and decent.  I also liked the Majestic properties in Punta Cana. More upscale companies include Secrets and Dreams

I go on a cruise almost every year, in December. I think it is a great way to relax and a good value. The problem is that I would like to do something new same time of year, and same type of all inclusive. I am single and travel by myself most of the time. Any ideas? Suggestions?

It all depends on your level of comfort as a solo traveler. For example, you could stay at an all-inclusive in the Caribbean or Mexico, and sign up for day trips and excursions. Or consider a group trip to Cuba; I went to Havana with Friendly Planet and had a great experience. Or if you are interested in cooking, sign up for a culinary vacation south of the border. The International Cooking Kitchen has trips to Argentina, Mexico and Peru, and are all-inclusive.

If either chatter is a golfer or golf fan, Pebble Beach is a must see. You don't have to play ( and probably can't on short notice) but just wandering around the facilities is a treat. I did that a few years ago when in SF on business, and the employees were nice enough to let me walk around the 18th green and even took my picture for me.

If you have only one day, consider places that have prebooked tickets. We went to the London Eye and it took all morning, even with prebooked tickets--it's the wait to get on board. It's also far from a Tube station and we took a taxi. We also took the river taxi from the London Eye to the Globe Theatre and the footbridge across the Thames to St Pauls.

Funny you should say Dublin. My now husband and I went to Ireland on vacation way back when. We got there a little jet lagged...and hungry. We went to a pub to get some food. And we felt as if we couldn't understand a word anyone was saying! It took us a good day or two to get used to the accent from most Irish...We felt we were going to be able to communicate, but that wasn't always the case!

Ah yes, that can be a wee problem sometimes. But you do get used to the accent, and Dublin is still great!

I missed last week's chat, but wanted to comment on the question of car rental insurance in Ireland. While the poster may not want to obtain a new credit card in order to obtain rental car insurance, others may be interested to know that World Mastercard holders can get CDW coverage in Ireland. There are a few "hoops" you have to jump through, but if you call 1-800-MC-ASSIST, they can walk you through the details. I have used this twice for car rentals in Ireland and it worked like a dream. (Fortunately, I did not have to file a claim!) Also, the poster may want to consider visiting the cliffs at Kilkee in lieu of the Cliffs of Moher. (Kilkee is about an hour's drive southwest of the Cliffs of Moher.) I had read so many things about how crowded the Cliffs of Moher are, especially in July and August. When we visited Ireland a couple years ago, we drove to the town of Kilkee, parked in the lot at the Diamond Rocks Cafe (near the statue of a young Richard Harris) and did part of the very nice cliff walk there. What we saw were some amazing cliffs and views of the sea; what we did not see were any crowds--there was only 1 other person walking. Also, we did this for free (as opposed to the Cliffs of Moher which charge a fee.)

Thanks very much for the tip.

I'd consider myself a fairly skilled worker. I'm bilingual in Spanish which leaves Latin America open to me. I have a master's degree. I could always apply for something like the foreign service program or something, but I'd just like a short vacation and perhaps I can pay my way with the services. I'm also facing a lot of application lag (applying for jobs while doing freelance work and being overworked on applications) and I don't really feel like a long interviewing process. I know of a few service working opportunities where you have to pay a lesser amount for the experience or fundraise (my friends runs one such program in Honduras) and I have nothing against those opportunities. I just don't necessarily have time to fundraise for a trip abroad nor do I have the money to pay for it particularly easily because I'm underemployed. I'd ideally like to go to Latin America somewhere.

We had a story on voluntourism a few years ago. Here's a list of possible programs for you to check out. Anyone have one they can recommend?

I am seeking any recommendations for restaurants that you or the peanuts may have to offer. Thank you~

A story we ran about a year ago recommended The Test Kitchen, Gold Restaurant and Biesmiellah. Chatters, any other recommendations?

Consider a walk: St. James's Park is very central and you can stroll from Buckingham Palace (see the guard changing?) to Horse Guards Parade (see the guard changing redux) then to the Churchill Museum, and on to Westminster Abbey, then past Parliament and across Westminster Bridge to the London Eye.

For Seattle---for 2 days if you have a passport you could do an overnight trip to Victoria either by passengar boat or you can fly on a sea plane like on Kenmore Air. Other option is train/bus to Portland for the 2 days.. The 3rd option is flying to San Fran for a couple of days. Either fly to Oakland (Alaska, Southwest direct cheap) or San Fran( Virgini American, Alaska, United). As for California college move---look at doing 2 days SF then drive down the coast. Day inMonterey (Aquarium), next day Big Sur night in San Luis obispo, third day Solvang area, Santa Ynez valley, and Santa Barbara, then to college

I am traveling to Rome next year and, although it is early, I have started researching flights. Has anyone used or heard of Alpha Flight Guru? Are they really cheaper? Are they responsive if flights get changed or canceled?

Never heard of Alpha Flight Guru --sorry. I would suggest that you do a quick online search of fares and compare prices. Most online booking sites are fairly similar in prices though you might find a better itinerary. I tend to use Kayak or TripAdvisor Flights.

Also contact the company with your questions about flight changes/cancellations. Although to be honest, I always book through a third party but still use the airline agent to help with any cancellations or changes.

Chatters, any experience with this company?

I'm traveling to Japan for 10 days in August. Any tips (other than dress appropriately for the hot weather?!) I'll be with a group, traveling through Tokyo, HIroshima, Kyoto, and Miyajima. Especially interested in recommended books to read before I go.

Here are some books on Japan, as suggested by National Geographic Traveler.

Any suggestions on what to do in Anchorage for 3-4 days on my own in early August? I will be accompanying my husband on a business trip but he will be busy during the day. There may be a short cruise on the last day.

Chatters, need your help here!

Why go on a cruise in Alaska or a riverboat along the Missouri River when a single might want to meet other singles near where they live around DC? What do you suggest?

Not sure we are equipped on dating advice but... If you stick to some of our popular local destinations, you might luck out. Regional beaches such as Ocean City, Rehoboth, Lewes and Bethany attract a lot of D.C. locals. So do area wineries and places such as Shenandoah National Park. But I will try to channel Carolyn Hax and others by saying that you should plan a vacation for you, to enjoy yourself -- don't put pressure on yourself to find a potential mate. Have fun and who knows what will happen.

For the person going to London, I would remove the London Eye from the list. The lines are long, and you only get a view. It's a great view, but that's all it is. For the person going to Canada, if you have US dollars, you can change them at any bank. That avoids ATM charges if they apply. Unlike US banks, Canadian banks in metropolitan or tourist areas have all been willing to exchange money. And the rates are posted in the bank--no surprises.

17-Mile Drive (preferably from Monterey to Carmel, i,e., north to south, so you can pull off on the right-hand side of the road to see the views). Pt. Lobos State Park, a bit south of Carmel, has tidal pools worth seeing at low tide (check local listings for time, but they're twice a day, so at least one should be at a convenient time).

Flying into/out of Heathrow's T4, from the US to Germany, with only a 1 hr connection time. Is it really possible to go back thru security and get to the gate in 1 hr? I booked it not really caring if I made the connection since I don't need to be in Germany by a certain time. Thanks!

I just went through T3, connecting to Dulles, and made it through security in less than an hour. But there are so many variables, such as the number of other planes arriving at the same time. I think it's doable but you gotta rush. I would let the flight attendant know that you have a tight connection and see if you can be one of the  first off the plane. Also carry a light load and wear running shoes.

I just returned from Paris. My travel agent notified our family members to charge cell phones and cameras as we would be required to turn them on at airport security. No one at CDG was interested in any of our three cell phones or four cameras, but they were, however, very interested in inspecting my chocolates.

That's the first thing I would inspect if I were handling security at a French airport. Because you know those chocolates are going to be good! Seriously, though, when the dust settles a little on this cell phone issue, I'm going to have to write a Navigator about the "dangers" of uncharged devices. If you have young children, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Good call on the chocolates, though.

Do they carry glass Christmas ornaments? I bought the most beautiful ornament from Poland when I was in Slovakia, and then a friend knelt in front of my Christmas tree and put her stiletto heel through it.

Yes, they do! A whole roomful of them. I was sorely tempted. . .

In southern Wisconsin you can find both New Glarus (Little Switzerland) and Mount Horeb (Little Norway -- and the troll capital of the world. My first trip to Europe we were amazed as to how much of the new country really looked like the old country. Not for architecture, but Toronto is full of "little" countries, and some authentic, fantastic, food. Montreal is often suggested around here, but Toronto is great, too! Also as an FYI -- Canada has switched to chip & pin credit cards now, too, but they still are able to take the old fashioned ones from the States without any problems, just some eye-rolling.


I had an interesting thing happen this week when buying tickets for a DC to LA flight. I was on expedia, and had a flight and fare I liked. However, when I got to the seating page, only middle seats were available for me to chose. I opened another window and went to the airline's website. I selected the same flights, but when I got to the seating selection, there were more seats available to select, including aisle seats. So - just a reminder that sometimes going directly to the airlines website has its benefits.

It's true, airlines are trying to encourage us to book directly with them. They've done so by offering miles, incentives and better seats. It's always worth checking around to find not only the best fare, but the best terms for buying a ticket. Thanks for the tip!

My husband and I are traveling to Iceland for a 4-day hiking trip, and are debating how much time to spend in Reykjavik before/after our hike. Our plan is to spend our time walking the whole city to explore the parks, see Interesting buildings, and maybe do a museum. Would two days be sufficient time? As a comparison, we felt like 2 days to explore Dublin was enough for us. Thanks!

Chatters? Thoughts? I guess if you did Dublin in two days, then you probably could do Reykjavik in that amount of time. 

I'd like to surprise my twin sister to celebrate her 60th birthday. She wants to see the 9 11 Museum, walk a little in Central Park, and see the Rockettes Christmas show. We'd take the very first and last train to NYC (from New Carrollton). My question is: is this too much to do in one day? Is it like "If this is Tuesday it Must be Belgium"? Thanks.

If you're energetic, it's doable. But not sure you really want to take the first train, which leaves at about 4 a.m. The last train home leaves Penn Station at about 10 p.m. and gets back after 1 a.m. If you can time it to get to New York by 9 a.m. and hit the museum and Central Park before heading to the late afternoon showing of the Rockettes show,  that would work. The museum is not close to Central Park, but the subway can get you from point A to B. 

Just got back from a week in Mexico City and can't say enough good things about it. I wanted to bring it up in the chat since all of our friends are scared to go -- don't be! City is safe and clean, subway is reliable and so much more efficient than ours, and people are very courteous. Such great history -- Templo Mayor, Maximilian I Emperor of Mexico, world-class anthropology museum. If you're looking for a cheap vacation and speak some Spanish (a must since English is virtually non-existent) -- go!

I second your recommendation! I love Mexico City.

Just returned from a Central Coast trip! Splurge at the Anderson Inn in Morro Bay or save at the funky motel-esque Apple Farm Inn in San Luis Obispo. We really enjoyed the elephant seal viewing just north of the Hearst Castle (which was interesting, if somewhat overpriced) and hanging out on the pier at Avila Beach.

A group of 6 friends are planning a floral based trip to London to the Chelsea Flower Show, and surrounding gardens, as well as a class or two if possible. I need help planning this trip and wondered if you had any advice, resources, suggestions.

Here's the site for the Chelsea Flower Show. For other gardens, there are so many to choose from! Here's a list from the London tourism folks. For garden enthusiasts, I think Hampton Court is a must. Spectacular! And an easy day trip from London.

Helvetia, WV - Switzerland in America!

Yes! Gotta get out there.

Copenhagen. Obviously, they speak Danish but EVERYONE is fluent in English as well.

Right. I was going to list the Scandinavian countries as well. Though obviously I didn't.

A friend and I stayed at Live Aqua, an adults only all-inclusive resort in Cancun for 5 nights. It was clean and calm, not a party resort at all. From what I could tell, adults only meant a lot of honeymooners, older couples, adult friends, and then grown families (college-age children on up). No spring breakers. No water slides. The food was decent, the drink service was fast. I would definitely recommend it!

The Test Kitchen was recently named the best restaurant in Africa, so it is likely difficult to get a reservation. If you cannot get a reservation, consider the Potluck Club. It is owned by the same person.

Thanks for the tip!

in the mid 90s I would travel to FL a lot and at one airport there was someone who enjoyed overly inspecting things. I would always have a laptop and once, it didn't turn on, so we had to sit there and plug it in and make it work, etc. boy was he annoying. every single time it was *something*. As if I wasn't there weekly.

Sounds annoying for sure.

I ate at the Roundhouse Restaurant when I visited a few years ago--great food. We even got a tour of the kitchen (we just had to ask when we got there, we didn't have any connections there).

is not a large city and very walkable. I think two days would be enough, even including a trip to the Blue Lagoon.

Japanese department stores usually have several very reasonably priced restaurants on the top floor. Great for lunch!

I think it depends on how slow/fast you want to take it and if you want to drive. I spent a week on my own in northwestern Italy during the off-season and it was absolutely magical. I flew in/out of Milan (spent a day there, but big cities, especially foreign ones feel a bit lonely when I'm on my own), took the train to the Riviera (Ventigmilia) and bused up to Dolceacqua, a tiny medieval town. Stayed in a charming b&b with a very mom-like host, hiked through the surrounding valley, ate several leisurely meals, drank lots of wine, visited Ventimiglia's famous market, and even ended up tagging along on a drag-themed musical bar crawl down to the coast. It's also super close to Monaco and the French border for some multi-country day trips. Most western European countries have plenty of English speakers or at least people with serviceable English, and I found a few free apps to help things along. The chatter may also want to consider Malta for a similar escape but in an English-speaking country. Low-cost airlines fly there from a few of the big hubs.

If the California-bound tourist would like to see some communities there with strong Portuguese presence, the following are the most significant according to the US Census. On or near the Pacific coast: San Jose (15,480); Santa Clara (3,654); PismoBeach (208); San Diego (7,027); also Morro Bay. In the San Joaquin Valley: Modesto (7,250); Stockton (2,568); Los Banos (1,871); Tulare (4,122); Turlock (5,184); Hilmar (2,015) (Full disclosure: I have cousins in Hilmar, which is a few miles SW of Highway 99 that runs up and down the Central Valley, so can attest to the availability of lots of Portuguese food and culture there!). Here's the source for figures.

Don't think that tourist was particularly looking for Portuguese communities, but thanks!

Is there a way to figure out direct flights from IAD, DCA and BWI? We would like to go somewhere warm the week between Christmas and New Years (yes, understanding that is a peak travel week). We aren't picky about where, but were thinking outside of the continental USA. However, we have a 3 1/2 year old, so while we can change planes, we would be swayed to a destination by the availability of a direct flight. I'm having a much harder time finding out where airlines fly direct to from our local airports than I would have thought. We can be flexible about which day we travel, and again, other than warm, aren't stuck on a specific destination. Any thoughts?

BWI lists all its nonstop flights. For Dulles & National, it's a little trickier, as you have to scroll through the online flight guides. The information for all airports is current, however, and some airlines add seasonal service during winter to warm-weather spots. Off the top of my head, you'll find nonstop flights from our region to Cancun, San Juan, Montego Bay, Nassau, St. Maarten, Punta Cana and Grand Cayman. 

I have a 22 hour layover in Istanbul with Turkish airlines and based on the fine print in their website I qualify for their complimentary hotel as there is only one flight to Dulles that departs one before I get there (both flights on Turkish air). Unfortunately I can’t confirm the hotel until I actually get to the airport in Istanbul. I’m a bit nervous to just get there and being told that for some reason I don’t qualify for the hotel promotion. I called the 1800 number and remained in the line for over 45 minutes on hold and wasn’t able to talk to someone. Also, I was not able to select seats when I bought the tickets. Does anyone have an experience with Turkish air hotel promotions and their seat selection process? Should I reserve a hotel on my own just in case and then cancel?

Chatters, can you help with this?

Going back to London for the first time in 13 years and will have a weekend after work to explore. Any new or interesting neighborhoods to check out? I have done all of the big touristy places. Any amazing restaurants (nice or cheap eats) to do?

Especially Post-Olympics, the East End is more and more of a happening place. If you can get into Ottolenghi, go for it. It's always fun to get cheap eats at markets -- Borough, Maltby Street, Berwick Street and tons of others.

I just saw the poster who recommended bringing a refillable water bottle on a 13-hour flight. Good idea to bring your own water, but do not fill the bottle from the bathroom sink. The water is not required to be potable. I don't think there is much other option on a plane, so if you really are concerned about hydration, bring several bottles of water.

Excellent suggestion. Thank you.

It's California 101!

Mmm. No, I believe it's 1.

Are you familiar Kander & Ebb's song "Ring Them Bells," about two singles who were next-door neighbors in NYC meeting and falling in love in Dubrovnik? LOL! Link to lyrics  (although you might prefer to search for Liza Minelli's performance, if it's available online).

Dulles has a map that identifies its destinations.

I went to Hiroshima in July a few years ago, and was surprised by just how hot and humid it was (not sure why, but I was living in Seoul and it didn't seem as bad). Miyajima near Hiroshima has beautiful shrines on the water. There is a place in Hiroshima with lots of little restaurants/food stands selling okonomiyaki - delicious! A couple of them had menus in English.

It's been several years since I've flown through Istanbul (unfortunately for me!), but I never had any problems with their layover program. Nothing every seemed spelled out, but when I appeared at the desk in the airport, I was handed a voucher and put in a cab, and ended up at a 4-star hotel (once was the Four Seasons, others were similar). Enjoy!

My sister lives in Anchorage, and we go there every summer for a couple of weeks. If you've only got 3 days, it kind of depends on what you like. Anchorage itself isn't that exciting, but you can take some good day trips from there. Consider heading south along the Kenai peninsula as far as you're comfortable driving. Girdwood is a short drive, and is a cute little resort town. You can stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to get up close to moose, bears, and other interesting animals (we go every year). The gold panning tourist traps are kinda fun, as long as you go in with low expectations. You can also drive down to Seward and take a glacier cruise. You can head north and go to Talkeetna, which is a nice drive (except for the stretch through Wasilla, which is basically an overgrown strip mall). Flightseeing up to Denali is expensive, but worth it if you've got the time and money. Rafting, canoeing, hiking, and other outdoor options are available, if that's what you like. It would probably be too much orchestration for you to make it up to Denali, do something there, and get back in the limited amount of time you've got. If you want to stay in Anchorage, the Zoo is fun, the Science Center is fun, and there's a salmon hatchery within the city that's more interesting than you might think. There are some nice parks in the city, but honestly, your best bets are probably day trips.

Actually, it is Route 1 AND 101 in some parts of central CA. (former SB resident)

Right. It's state Route 1, not U.S. Route 1, my bad. I fixed that.

US Route 1 gets you to Key West.

Right, my bad, as I said.

Funny that you mentioned Solvang as a recommendation for the west coast trip, since it, too, is a Little Denmark. While you are there, stop in at Pea Soup Andersen's - a California tradition - and delicious soup! Also, Santa Barbara is the best little city on the coast - lovely architecture, a great little art museum on State Street, excellent restaurants, beautiful beaches, etc. go and stay overnight if you can!

Love both those places!

Any capital in Europe is doable, I think - everyone in Amsterdam spoke great English (well, everyone I met).

Hi. I have been a loyal USAirways flyer. I have 140,000 frequent flyer miles. I'm looking to take a trip abroad using my miles, but of course have discovered that the seats are not available. I've also looked into booking a trip almost a year in advance, but still am finding the same problem. Suggestions?

I would call an agent and talk about the various options. I have tried to book miles online and have been very frustrated by the lack of options. However, an agent can help pinpoint availability and then you can book it online to avoid the charge. Good luck!

Hi Travel Team- My husband and I are looking to take his elderly parents (80+) to Hawaii this fall for about 10 days and are trying to figure out which island(s)/cities to do. They are mobile but not particularly active (walking around the store, hotel, parking lot is fine but there will be no volcano hiking) so we are thinking about a large resort that has lots to offer onsite and within easy driving distance. One idea is splitting time between Hilo and Kona on the big island so that they can see the volcano but not have to drive from the other side of the island. (Two hours each way in the car would be hard for them.) At the same time we are wondering about the stress of packing up and moving hotels. Any thoughts or resources for helping make this decision?

Your parents sound a lot like mine, who always loved Oahu. It's a busy island that's easy to navigate, and there's lots of not-too-strenuous things to do. They stayed at many places there over the years, but I believe the Sheraton Waikiki was one of their favorites. If you have your heart set on the Big Island, Sheraton and Marriott have resorts on the Kona side. Not sure there are any true resorts near Hilo. Chatters have any ideas? 

Hi. Is there a site for reviews of airports or for sharing tips? My family was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport yesterday and it was amazingly hard to navigate - everything from bad road signage to unclear rental car return areas to a check-in attendant who managed to give my husband someone else's passport! I would like to write a little report ;-)

FlyerTalk might be a good forum.

A group of 5 flew a couple of weeks ago to Brussels. My travel agent had selected 5 seats in Delta business class - two rows in the middle and one of the single side seats. The agent printed our boarding passes for Brussels when we left on the connecting flight from Richmond to JFK. When we got to the gate at JFK and tried to board, our passes were declared invalid. We found that one of the gate agents had taken it upon herself to move my daughter and me four rows back because she said that one of the monitors was not working. We were not asked or informed in advance. I was pretty peeved when I got on the plane to find out how far back we were from our companions. Fortunately the flight attendant let us go back to our original seats (where the monitor worked fine). Two other people ended up in the second set of seats we were given. I have no idea where they were really supposed to be seated.

How annoying! I'm glad they let you switch back.

Also worth going to Hampton Court Palace - plus it's easy to get to from any Heathrow hotel. (And riding the bus down there is an experience in itself!)

Worth considering, I guess. Wasn't clear to me whether the OP was staying overnight or just literally one day, but as much as I loved Hampton Court, it could eat up a significant chunk of the day, between getting there and back to London and giving yourself enough time to do the place justice.

We're going in October. Obviously I'm not in a hurry yet, but I've been watching airfares and it looks like the rates aren't going to get any better than they are right now. Is there any reason to think they might drop within the next couple of months?

If you can find nonstop flights for less than $400, buy the tickets. Best I'm seeing is about $360, and that's a good fare. 

I don't speak any other language, and i have never once had a problem communicating in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, etc. Greece was a little trickier, but still just fine. So many people speak English, and as long as you're polite and respectful (ask if they speak english before speaking), you'll be fine. Don't let the language issue stop you from going where you want to go!

Are the San Juan Islands in Washington State a viable option for a family Christmas? Are the inns open? One website showed no availability in all of December, so I thought it may just be closed. Any high end hotel recommendations that can handle a group of 10 adults? Or would it be like going to Martha's Vineyard at that time of year, with most things shuttered?

The islands are gorgeous, but winter can be a bit tough if you want to spend lots of time of outdoors or riding the ferry from island to island. Also many locals leave for warmer climes, shutting down their businesses for the season. On the plus site: fewer tourists and lower prices. Some indoor sites are open, such as the Whale Museum, while others are open by appointment only, so call ahead.  

For accommodations, check out Lakedale Resort, which offers a variety of lodging types. Here's a description of the lodge rooms: "All rooms in the hotel have a gas fireplace, a deck or balcony, jetted tubs and complimentary wireless internet access." They also offer glamping, cabins and an airstream.

 Friday Harbor House is also lovely.

Just got back from 2 weeks in Toronto and here are 2 thoughts. Use the ATM for changing money and be sure to get rid of your Loons ($1 coins) before you come home as no one will change them back. Chip and pin is not generally an issue in Canada except for American Express cards. I heard from several waiters that they can be a bit finicky.

Thanks for the first-hand account.

I have one day (well, 10 hours) in San Francisco next month. I haven't been in 20 years and don't know when I'll be able to get back. What are the things I absolutely need to do?

I would go straight to Golden Gate Park and spend the day exploring the museums and gardens and getting some Vitamin D in the outdoors. Or head to the Ferry Building Marketplace and Embarcadero -- there's great dining and people-watching.

You can take BART from the airport. Here's a list of day trips from the airport.

We had Istanbul stopovers going to and coming back from Venice last year. With a 22-hour layover, you should be fine. The process is a bit chaotic--you give them your ticket, they take it and wander off for a while, you think they've disappeared, then they reappear, call your name and have you walk to a shuttle bus that takes you to your hotel. We ended up in decent hotels both times (one of which was a short walk from Hagia Sophia/the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar). It's a pretty good way to get a quick tour of Istanbul, or just to have a free crash pad heading East from DC to help you get over jet lag. The hotel desk was next to a Starbucks. Look for that, otherwise it kinda blends in with money exchange stands, taxi companies, and other airport services. Here's a link that gives some useful information on the Turkish Air stopover process:

There is a New Glarus, Wisconsin. I was there many years ago as a kid with my family to see the William Tell production - although I've no idea if they still do that.

And that's all she wrote, folks! Thanks for all the great questions. Hope we were able to help, and if we didn't get to your query this week, I apologize. Please come back next week! Meanwhile, our prize today goes to the person who wrote in about the Georgia town that has turned itself into a little Germany. Send your contact info to me at, and I'll ship something right out to you.

Thanks again, everyone, and talk to you 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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