Talk about Travel

Sep 08, 2014

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.
Past Talk about Travel chats

Hello chatters! Ready to fly again today? Hope you all enjoyed the story of  my return to Berlin, a favorite city from long ago. And the farm B&B in the Cotswolds sounds like something I want to do someday! To win today's prize, tell me about your favorite city to go back to. Much as I adore Berlin, I have to say that the place I really want to see again is Vienna. How about you?

Now hit us with your questions!

I loved reading Zofia's article about Berlin ... I visited there in June 2013 (first and possibly last time I'll get the chance!) and I just loved it -- it was all so interesting. The most memorable spot for me was the German Resistance Memorial Center, which was an incredible collection about the efforts to combat the Nazis. Fascinating. Thanks for the article! I was smiling the whole time I read it.

Thank you for the feedback! So glad you liked the article -- and that it made you smile!

Our family of 12, including grandparents, parents, and elementary school-age children, has been vacationing for several years in the Outer Banks. We're now looking for a change of scenery and considering a house in Delaware or Maryland that is near the beach, has a good area for walking and biking, and with shops and fun activities for all. What would you suggest -- Bethany Beach, Ocean City, Rehoboth, some other place? We would prefer a place that's more on the quite side. Thanks! -- J.C.

I live in Ocean City for several months each year, but for many, many years, we vacationed in the Nags Head every summer. On the plus side, getting to the Delmarva Coast is much faster & easier than driving to the Outer Banks. But because the area is closer, it's more expensive to rent a house in season. Rehoboth has nice shops & restaurants. Bethany is smaller and family oriented. Fenwick Island has many gated, upscale beachfront communities, but they aren't within walking distance of shops/eateries. Ocean City has a little bit of everything. It's mostly older, but has some newer developments near the Route 90 bridge, including Gateway Grand (condos), Rivendell (condos), Meridian (condos)  and Sunset Island (condos, townhouses, single family). 

I read last week's advice to the question about a dog-friendly restaurant to stop at near Charlottesville en route to a park between Cville and Lynchburg. The advice suggested places in Lexington. Lexington is nowhere near the route to that end location. Unless the traveler is coming from West Virginia.

Yes, sorry. We do our best to answer questions here in rapid-fire question. I thought if the traveler chose to bypass C'Ville and travel down I-81, then Lexington might work, at least one way.

My husband's old college roommate now lives in Melbourne, and has invited us to come visit this winter. My husband is definitely going, but I'm on the fence. My vacation time is limited, and I don't know whether I'd be able to get off enough days in order to make the trip worthwhile. What, in your opinion, is the minimum number of days required for such a trip? I've flown to Europe several times and usually do pretty well with jet lag, but this would be my first hemisphere-crossing trip.

Australia is certainly a long trip, and the 14-hour time difference can be rough. But if you can get solid sleep on the flight, you can fight the jet lag and enjoy your ground time. If possible, try to adapt to the time you arrive. For example, if you land at lunch time, eat a meal, tour around for the afternoon (exercise is a great foil to jet lag), then have dinner and go to bed. If you must take a nap, keep it short-- maybe a two hours or so.

I am of the school of thought of Go! And you are especially lucky having a friend in such an amazing destination. This way, you won't have to worry about any of the usual planning and can just enjoy your short time Down Under.

Last year you recommended American Express for currency exchange because they do not charge a fee. The office I used in Tyson's Corner is no longer there. Can you recommend the best deal this year? Or should we use ATM machines?

Go to AAA. You don't have to be a member. They'll sell you a prepackaged amount of currency for a set price. For euros, it's packets of 75 euros, and you can buy up to four. If your office doesn't have the packs on hand, and you have time, they'll order the cash for you and you only pay the delivery fee, which is nominal. I believe I ordered $300 in euros and paid $12 for delivery. And once abroad, yes, use the ATM machines. I don't know where you're going, but in Europe, for instance, they're everywhere. Your bank may charge you a small fee for the exchange, but it'll be far less than the fee you'd pay at an exchange booth.

Zofia -- My Polish-American husband has a fantasy trip -- driving a rented car from Prague to Warsaw. First, however, one of us has to learn to drive a manual transmission, probably me! Is it realistic to plan a trip like that, if both party's Slavic language skills are virtually non-existent? Lady Fairfax

Yes, it's perfectly realistic. The road situation in eastern Europe has really improved over the past 15-20 years, with more highways, and many more people speak at least rudimentary English wherever you go. Also, you may be able to rent an automatic, if you're willing to pay a bit more. Don't know how important that is to you -- knowing how to drive a stick is an important skill, I think! Besides all of that, it's an adventure! I say do it.

For me that city has to be Amsterdam, Netherlands. I have had the fortune of going twice, once for a week long conference and once on Vacation (start of a cruise). It's such a walkable city, I love the canals and the canal homes. Love, Love, Love the museums. Also the fact that they have the infrastructure already built in to be biker friendly makes it such a ecofriendly place as well. I haven't been for the tulip auctions, which is on my list. The place is such a breath of fresh air, relaxing and a cool place to escape. Oh and the food (the chocolates and the cheese) are phenom. It makes such a fantastic start and end to a EU excursion. A close second would be Kyoto Japan. That said I AMSTERDAM!

I hear you!

So...there are tons of places that I would go back to in a heartbeat (including Charleston, SC and Wilmington, NC), but those seem less out of reach these days. So...I would love to go back to Chania, Crete someday. Granted, it was the first stop on our honeymoon a few years back, but I loved exploring the Venetian-era downtown and harbor area, it made a great base to explore the island from, and we had amazing food (often without an English menu - which was tough to find once we got to the more Western-centric touristy places like Santorini). All in all, a really lovely place.

Sounds very lovely!

Amsterdam! I went about 13 years ago (while a senior in high school) and just fell in love with the city. I would love to see it from an adult's viewpoint (and not on a business trip with my dad).

Number two for Amsterdam!

Hello, Crew...Just wanted to share a recent experience and get your take on it. Before flying to BWI recently, I went on Hotwire and got a good deal on a car rental. When we arrived, the Alamo clerk did 2 things that I guess he was told to do, but which left a bad taste in our mouths: 1) he claimed that the compact car we had prepaid for would not hold 3 adults with 3 bags and tried to upsell us a bigger car (which would have added $80 to our rental so we refused), and 2) he claimed that the pre-fill fuel option would be the best price we could find for gasoline (which we took for the sake of convenience, but we never saw local stations with a price that high). I know it was "just his job" to do this, but I really resent being lied to -- the smaller car was perfectly big enough, and the local gas prices were about 10 cents less per gallon. When I e-mailed Hotwire to report this dissatisfaction with the experience, they said we'd have to take it up with Alamo. I am not sure if I should bother, and I guess that's what Alamo hopes, too...that customers will either take the upsell bait or not complain afterwards. But as consumers, do we have any options, or are we at the mercy of the free market system? P.S. having read Christopher's recent columns about car rental companies and hotel charging non-smoking customers for sketchy cleaning fees, I will admit my consumer rip-off radar was on high during the car transaction, but still...when will companies realize that they lose more customers than they gain using these sneaky tactics?

I'm sorry that happened to you. Car rental employees are trained to upsell you on fuel purchase options and upgrades, and sometimes they go to far. If you feel as if you were strong-armed into one of these optional purchases, it's virtually impossible to dispute it afterwards (I've tried, and I know many others who have too). The best defense against the upsell is to know exactly what you want and to stick to it when you get to the counter. By the way, I have a whole chapter on rental cars in my latest book, with more details on these come-ons, and I'd be happy to send it to you. Here's my email address.

My toddler loves the beach. We have a long weekend in the fall, and I'm debating taking him to the beach. Coming from fly-over land so not DC. That means catching a connecting flight from Atlanta, Dallas or Houston. Where should I look that would still be warm in October? Florida? Caribbean?

I'm heading to the Outer Banks myself in October. Of course, that would be early October, not late. But it stays warm enough there to swim and sunbathe well into mid-October. Florida would probably be a safer bet -- Amelia Island is loverly. Or you could head to Boca Raton or Fort Lauderdale. Or, of course, Miami.  Chatters, your suggestions?

I lived in Skopje, Macedonia, for a couple of years shortly after it became independent. It felt like a big village, still very Soviet with its stores and factories, but excited to be independent and determining its future. Now I understand it has giant supermarkets and chain hotels and American fast food restaurants - I would love to see it again to see how it has changed since the early days of independence, but I think I would also miss that feeling of being "on the brink."

It's always fascinating to see how places change over time, and in eastern Europe, those changes are so dramatic! Hope you get back there!

Florence, Italy! The art, the history, the food - everything in one place!!!

Adore Florence! Exceipt in August. ;-)

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (in the East Bay, specifically), so whenever I hear Tony Bennett's rendition of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" -- which was a monster hit when I was a teenager -- I get all verklempt and homesick (filled with saudade, as the Portuguese would say).

Completely understandable!

Help! Trying to plan a trip to Italy this winter, and it seems like the nonstop IAD-FCO (Rome) flight is gone. Did they announce they were dropping this route, or making it just seasonal for the summer? It's always been packed every time I've taken it.

The IAD-FCO United nonstop is now seasonal. I believe it stops at the end of this month and will start again in May. As airlines merge and concentrate on hubs, it seems as if nonstop flights are becoming more difficult to find. 

Hi! My children and I recently spent a few thousand dollars taking Amtrak from Chicago, to Montana and then Montana to Portland, Oregon. The second leg of our journey was a nightmare. We boarded at midnight (Amtrak, I have learned, is always many, many hours delayed traveling out west), and got a family bedroom that was literally falling apart! The upper bunk beds and ladder were broken, the room was filthy with water stains and holes on the walls, dirty tisses scattered about, a horrible smell, etc.!! To top it off, we didn't even get to eat a single meal in the dining car because it was too late when we boarded and then they sent the dining car to Seattle early the next morning! It was a terrible, gross, sleepless night for all of us! We tried to get Amtrak to help (onboard and by calling their customer service number) but they did nothing. I have since contacted Amtrak for a refund but they say they don't give them. I would like to sue them in smalls claims court in Virginia but I can't locate a registered agent for them (which is necessary). Is it not possible to sue Amtrak in small claims? Do they have a special status? I know they get sued all the time in federal court, but I was hoping not to hire a lawyer. Thanks so much for any guidance you can provide!!!!

Before you take Amtrak to court, you might try sending the rail carrier a brief, polite email. (Watch out for Julie who pops up when you click on the link.) Amtrak doesn't normally offer full refunds for service lapses, but if the conditions were as bad as you describe, it might make an exception. The trick is to have everything in writing. If that doesn't work, please let me know. You can contact me here.

dirt, pollution, political unrest...I love Bangkok! Where else in the world can someone of modest means live so high on the hog? Great restaurants and world class hotels for not much more than you would pay for Outback & La Quinta stateside. Can combine with e.g. Phuket for some fun in the sun. And the shopping? I have way more handmade suits than I will ever wear out!

Gotta get to Bangkok one day!

My favorite city to visit is London. Every time I go, I stop in at Westminster Abbey (it touches me in a way I don't fully understand), then I go and see new things. Since I don't get there anywhere near as much as I'd like to, there are still so many things unseen. Last time it was Soane's Museum, British Museum, Hyde Park, and the "Harry Potter" bridge. I also discovered it's possible to go to Kew Gardens even if just in London for a layover - it's that close to Heathrow.

A great city, absolutely..

Hi Travel Gurus! I am traveling to St. Lucia with Global Volunteers at Thanksgiving. Any recommendations on must see/must do activities during our free time? (PS - there is still room for volunteers if anyone thinks this is as fabulous as I do! ) Thank you - these chats save my Mondays!!

St. Lucia is one of my favorite destinations. The one attraction that we're still talking about is the rainforest canopy tour.  Next time we visit, we're going to try the zipline.

We will be travelling to Paris, France with our 17 year old grand daughter in April, who has her passport and driver's license. My husband and I are wondering if we would need any other documentation (i.e. notarized letter from parent authorizing her travel with us, etc.). Thank you for your reply.

Customs and Border Protection recommends this nugget:

Due to the increasing incidents of child abductions in disputed custody cases and as possible victims of child pornography, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strongly recommends that unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the adult have a note from the child's other parent (or, in the case of a child traveling with grandparents, uncles or aunts, sisters or brothers, friends, or in groups*, a note signed by both parents) stating "I acknowledge that my wife/husband/etc. is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter/group. He/She/They has/have my permission to do so."

For more info, check out the agency's link.

Decades ago (ouch), I was an exchange student in Hamburg, a lovely Northern European city and host to the continent's second largest port. I've had the good fortune to revisit since then, and have remained close to my host family. But the "return" I'm writing about was more unexpected. A distant family member had found some old film reels in an attic, thoughtfully committed them to DVD, and distributed copies. On the film was my grandmother as a teenager in the early 1930s in Hamburg (and Istanbul, and Alexandria - I come by wanderlust honestly!). Her father had emigrated from Hamburg, and they'd filmed the family trip, back to see where he'd come from. My grandmother was an amazing human being, and seeing her in her youth really touched me. Family videocams couldn't have been too common back in the day, but I'm so glad theirs had one. She died in 2002, and I really enjoyed revisiting Hamburg with her, albeit virtually.

What a lovely "return." Thanks for sharing!

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Awesome mix of outdoor stuff to do and quaint Swiss culture.

So true!

I'm heading south for the winter months and am thinking about renting out my townhouse for two to four months. Any recommendations/preferences for trying an executive rental company vs VRBO vs Craigslist, etc?

It depends what you're looking for and how much of a risk you're comfortable with. If you want a professionally-managed vacation rental experience, you might want to go with the executive rental agency or a larger company like Wyndham Vacation Rentals. VRBO and Craigslist are more like classified listings for independent vacation rentals. You could still find some good deals there, but you may not be able to use your credit card or have 24/7 access to someone who can  handle maintenance issues.

So many! 1) London because I've only visited as a teenager and barely scratched the surface during my family's 2 days there 2) Vienna because it is so gorgeous and there is so much to see 3) Toronto because I love its vibrancy and diversity and haven't been in too many years 4) Seattle because coffee 5) Brussels because chocolate

All good reasons!

Totally a cliche, but Paris, of course. Our first trip was a late Spring/early Summer whirlwind, trying to see as much of the city as we could in great big gulps. We adored it. Our second trip was a snowy January excursion, far more leisurely in terms of sightseeing, for the most part eschewing museums and the like for neighborhood walks and soaking up the beauty of the city. I will admit that we scheduled most of our meals both trips. We're going to be there for a couple of days next June (after I walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago!) and once again we will have no fixed agenda, other than dining at some of our favorite places and trying a new resto or two.

My husband is green with envy! His favorite city, and you're doing it just the way he would (if I'd let him). :-)

Considering a long weekend in the Outer Banks for end of October. Yay or nay? I'm not much a of sit-on-the-beach person anyhow - more interested in scenery (lighthouses, sunsets), walking/hiking, some eating and shopping.

Definitely yay. Day temps should be in the mid 60s, so being outdoors should be very pleasant. And it generally rains more in summer than in the fall. 

Venice. No Doubt about it. Was only there for 2 days during a tour...amazing but just a teasing taste......

Yup, another great one.

We are looking to go on a week long trip over NYE this year, but prices are outrageous! Any ideas for an "off the beaten path" style trip? We have a 2 year old daughter so we're hoping to squeeze in one more trip before we have to buy her a seat! We wanted something warm, but now I think we're open!

Everyone wants to go on vacation that week, especially those with school-age kids. You'd save money by going either a week earlier or later, but if the idea is to spend the holidays away, driving rather than flying will save money. Even cold-weather spots, especially those that offer nearby skiing or Christmas markets, are busy that week, so airfares are going to be high. Try one of the tour operators that specialize in bundling air & all-inclusives, such as Apple Vacations or Vacation Express

I love the chaos of Bangkok too. This is the first year in the last 8 or 9 that I am not going there other than a short layover on the way home from Bali. I kind of wish I could have squeezed out an overnight layover just to go into town. And I love going back to Toronto again and again as well. It's a short trip but a great city.


Giverny (if that counts as a city!) -- I was absolutely transported into a painting and able to forget my troubles. Life and health is still challenging but I bought a little watercolor on that trip (of/in Avignon ~ another dream) and when I'm blue I see that and am instantly transported again. I'm told that the mind/body doesn't differentiate between strong imagination and reality......

Giverny counts!

I am going on a trip to China next month for 5 weeks for business and pleasure and from my research it seems like most things have to be paid for in cash. I prefer not to travel with my check card tied to main home account for security reasons. What do you recomend, take travelers checks, USD cash or set up a special account with an check card only tied to that account?

Not sure what I'd do in the case of China, having never been. Chatters, any advice for this traveler?

Hi! Just made plans to visit Nashville during the Christmas holidays--any special things I should make sure to see/do? Also, do you have a good way to tell what restaurants might be open on Christmas day, or do I just have to call around? We won't have a car, so have to stay relatively taxi/bus friendly but other than that we're up for anything. Ideas?

My favorite place in Nashville is the Bluebird Cafe, where songwriters gather to perform their original songs. The venue appears in the soapy show, "Nashville" -- speaking of which, I spent a weekend with the show's creator, Callie Khouri. Here are her tips. I also recommend the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which recently completed an expansion. And the Station Inn's bluegrass jam on Sunday nights.

For Christmas dinner, best to call ahead by a few weeks. If the restaurant of your choice is open, they might have a special dinner that requires a reservation.

Well, to go back my hometown, Miami. I couldn't wait to leave, but with each successive trip back, I learn to appreciate its quirks. What used to be brash tackiness, I now see as bold originality. The gawdy architecture, is filled with color and sunshine. The get rich quick schemes everyone seemed to peddle are now a reflection of our brave entrepreneurial spirit. I now love that I can take a two hour flight and feel like I'm in a different country, eating amazing food for insanely cheap prices, speaking a different language, buying exotic fruits from vendors on the street. It may not be my favorite city in the world, and it still isn't where I want to live, but every time I return, I'm reminded of one more reason this tropical metropolis is so special. I guess most people eventually start to appreciate the hometowns they once disdained, but how many of them come from places as zany, diverse, and beautiful as Miami? Now, excuse me while I go snack on jam made from the mangoes of my backyard tree and tuck into my second shot of cuban coffee :)

See, you *can* go home again.

my tour guide for the Dogon invited me to spend the night at his place since I couldn't get transport until the next day. We went to a friend's house and he pulled out a recorder (flute) of some sort and played some magical sounding tunes. There were no drugs involved but the effect was the same!

Sounds like reason to go back!

Due to work schedules, I haven't been able to participate in the chat for waaaay too long and I am so excited to be back today! Zofia's question fascinated me so I started to think of where, out of everywhere I've been, would I want to return. Unfortunately, I think the memories of so many cities would change due to different circumstances now, I can't think of many places I would revisit. After all, Rio was wonderful but my friends there are gone; places I visited with my family would be reminders of great times when my parents were alive; all of which make me think you really CAN'T go back again. So, I will focus my travels on new places and make new memories. Thanks for jogging my mind and helping me remember some wonderful times!

You make some good points!

Vienna--with museums, and beer gardens and wine gardens, the karntnerstrasse, Mozart, pastries and coffee, Spanish riding school.....I'm missing it terribly! Went as a student years ago

Yup, my dream. I was there as a student, too. . .

What a neat place Prague is. I'd travel just for the beer. Wow!

Yes, Prague is fantastic, no doubt about it.

Hi Recently you gave a helpful idea about taking the Weekawken ferry to NYC. Since we're driving from Maryland on a Thursday morning and don't know exact time we'll arrive, is it a problem to get a ticket upon arrival? Or do we need reservations? Most important, can we park there for 2 days while we're in the city? If not, I know there used to be inexpensive parking at 43-44th street between 10th-11th Ave. Do you know if it's still there

You can show up and board. The ferry leaves every 10 to 20 minutes weekdays, depending on the time of day, so you won't have to wait long for the ferry.

For parking, the ferry company suggests the Parking Garage at Port Imperial, which has 24-hour access. For rates, see here. You can also find other lots in the vicinity. I believe that the 44th Street midtown lot is still open. The company is QuikPark. Here's a list of their locations.

Lisbon, because the only time I was there -- a two-day layover before flying back to the US -- I had pneumonia so never got to leave my pousada room throughout my stay, so only saw the some lovely views of the city from my room and from the cab to/from the airport (did manage to snap a few photos "on the fly," which merely whetted my appetite to see the entire city someday).

Oh poor you. You've got to go back.

I did the same thing – visited an old friend temporarily living in Melbourne when I did not have a lot of vacation. Remember that you lose a day going but get it back when you return, so if you can manage 5 days of vacation you can leave after work on Friday, be in Melbourne Sunday morning, and then come back the following Saturday or Sunday and be back at work on Monday. That will be enough time to see lots of Melbourne and the surrounding area, which is beautiful. GO!

Another Go! person. Thanks for the encouragement.

Have never been there, but have done similar long-distance trips to Asia. My minimum time period to justify the length of the "getting there" is 3 weeks. I know not many people can swing that much leave, but I would question doing anything less than 10 days, assuming that includes travel time. It often can add up to 3 days of travel time, depending on where you are going, e.g., if you are going to a smaller city and have to take a train, which is often the case on my Asia trips (long flights followed by 10-hour train ride to destination).

My husband and I want to travel somewhere warm for my 65th birthday, which means either February or early March. We were thinking about flying no further than to the Caribbean or the coast of Central America or northern South America. We'd like to be able to snorkel, from the beach or reasonably close in, and also do some local touring. Do you have any recommendations?

Cozumel has very nice beach snorkeling, but it doesn't offer all that much local touring. Perhaps you could stay there for part of the vacation and then head to the mainland for more sightseeing options. 

I also loved Bangkok, although there is a lot more to it than cheap suits made to order and good hotel rates (sorry, that post kind of put me off as sounding somewhat "ugly Americanish"). It's an incredibly vibrant 21st century city that feels very much alive. It gave me the sense of the coming future, while also having wonderful historical and religious sites to visit. And the best food we had was not in the nice restaurants or hotels, but in holes in the wall or purchased on the street.

And more Bangkok love!

My husband and I are attending a wedding in Kennebunkport, Maine this weekend, and plan to extend the trip to a four-day mini-trip. We'll have a rental car and a few-hour travel radius. Any suggestions of things to do in the area?

Without knowing your interests, hard to come up with a plan. But Boothbay Harbor is lovely and is less than two hours from Kennebunkport. From there, you could take a ferry to Monhegan Island, a favorite spot for artists and nature lovers (if you get seasick, don't go if the ocean is rough). 

Many thanks to the reader who gave me the scoop on the Parking Panda site. We saved over $100 in parking rates and only had to walk an extra block to the hotel. Well, my husband did after he dropped me off at the hotel first. Thanks again!

So happy to hear that Panda worked out for you!

Would it be more convenient for you to go to a coastal destination in Georgia or Texas, so you wouldn't need a connecting flight, maybe just a rental car?

I'm looking for a place between Pittsburgh and Baltimore (closer to Pittsburgh) for a group of couples and a 6 year old to gather for a weekend in October. We've done Deep Creek and 7 Springs many times before. I'd like to suggest something different. We also need to stay in a hotel (versus a cabin or B&B) because one couple may have to cancel at the last minute for legitimate reasons.

You might consider Rocky Gap Resort. There's plenty to do besides the casino, and it's in a beautiful setting. With a hotel, of course. Chatters, other thoughts?

The city I'd like to return to is Barcelona. Visited earlier in the year and got to see a lot of it, and loved the museums. Especially loved the colorful public art everywhere, and Gaudi architecture. But unfortunately I became quite ill and lost a few days of sightseeing, which meant I missed out on La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and other treasures. Seeing Parc Guell breaks my heart, it was the one sight I most wanted to see. I hope to make it back to Barcelona, some day, soon!

Hope you do!

My adult son and I traveled to Iceland this June and spent 10 days traveling the island (first three on the South coast, the next three on the North coast, and the last four in the Reykjavik area). If you have only 4-5 days to spend, you could easily fill the time by staying in one spot near Reykjavik and taking day trips. There are many things to see that are within a 2-hour one-way drive from the capital area. While you may spend more time driving, you’ll save time by not having to pack (and then unpack) your vehicle each day when you check out (and in) to hotels. Rather than stay in the city of Reykjavik, to make our day trips easier we stayed a few miles northeast in nearby Mosfellsbaer in a “hotel” just off the Ring Road (Iceland Route 1) that was next door to one of the several KFCs in the capital area. Among the things to see and do in and near the capital: - Downtown Reykjavik – which we did on a Sunday, as there is free parking in the downtown lot next to the Kolaportid Flea Market, which has Sunday hours and was fun to walk through. The Harpa performing art center is a block or two away. A nice small museum nearby is “Reykjavík 871±2”, an archaeological excavation of an early dwelling from around the year 871. Note that many of the larger stores and malls are closed or have limited hours on Sunday. - Whale watching – although we went out of Husavik along the north coast, there are boats that go out of Reykjavik. - Horse riding – there is at least one Icelandic horse farm near the capital, and others scattered about the country. We spent a night at one near Akureyri on the north coast. - The so-called Golden Circle – including the Thingvellir (Þingvellir) national park, the waterfall Gullfoss, and the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. You can drive to all three very easily in 4 or 5 hours, and still have time to visit other sites in the same day. - The Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, about a half hour or so east of Reykjavik, offers a brief film and tour showing how much of Iceland receives electricity and hot water. - The Blue Lagoon – although I thought it was an overpriced tourist trap. Two adult tickets were about $100 US (more if you need swimsuits and/or towels), although kids 13 and under are free. It’s nearly an hour from Reykjavik and might be best visited heading to or from Keflavik airport, which it’s near. We had been to a geothermal pool near Lake Myvatn (pronounced MEE-va) on the north coast that was about half the price and was much nicer to sit and soak in. If all you want to do is take a dip, nearly every town in Iceland has its own heated pool where you can get day passes, and a lot of them have water slides for the kids. A bit further away (more than a two-hour drive) are more waterfalls and glaciers along the south coast, or caves and other sights along the west coast. It all depends on how far you want to go and/or how much you want to spend (for tours). In addition to the Iceland tourism site referenced by the chat hosts, you’ll find all sorts of information and videos by searching online. Check out the Iceland Road Guide website that has a free online book you can read. Before we left, I also bought the Insight Guides Iceland book on Amazon (~$20) that was very helpful in finding attractions to see. I also bought Scandinavian maps for my Garmin GPS (which included Iceland and Norway, et al). You can get them directly from Garmin – I spent ~$40 on Amazon to get them on an SD card. Half of the fun was listening to my American GPS voice butcher the Icelandic street names – not that I could pronounce them either, but I know that she wasn’t close. I hope this helps...

Such exhaustive information! Thank you!

I'd take a check card, however you set it up is up to you/your risk tolerance. You're going to want/need reminbi to pay for nearly everything and the easiest way (for me) to get that is via ATM. It won't hurt to bring some dollars to exchange, but it's not going to be people's preference. Also, last time I was there (a year and a half ago) I was actually able to pay for a few places in Beijing and Shanghai with a cc, but at a steep tariff. Also, always ask for a receipt.

Here you go, China traveler!

I've been to China several times. DON'T use Traveler's cheques. No one will take them. And there are security concerns especially relative to ATMs. I just took USD, which was easily converted in hotels. Yes, the rate in hotels in China is favorable, and it's safer than looking around for a bank or ATM. However, many places, especially in cities, do take credit cards, even for smaller ($10) purchases. So, no need to open a separate account. Just take some cash and plan to use credit for larger purchases, like your hotel, trains, etc.

Hmm. And here's a slightly different take on China.

My dream is to buy a small cottage (of course, a cottage not a house) in Ireland near the sea. I have an Irish passport (although I don't know if that confers any benefits, other than possibly health insurance.) Do you have any tips for starting such a search? I'd like to go over at some point and tour the country (I've been once already). But I'm not sure which areas I should focus on. Thanks!

Many tour operators, including  offer fly/drive packages to Ireland that include flexible B&B vouchers. I'd start my research by doing one of these trips. My people come from Dingle, so I'm partial to that part of Ireland. 

I am planning to go to Cape Charles the first weekend of October. I am thinking the water will be too cold for swimming - your thoughts? Your article on Cape Charles has been very helpful for planning.

In Cape Charles, the average water temperature for October is about 68 degrees, which isn't too frigid, especially on a warm Indian summer day. Just keep a towel and a sweatshirt handy and take the plunge.


I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall...ten visits have not been enough! The first few were wonderful, experiencing places and happenings I had dreamed of for many a year. They were all part of study or theatre tours, but always with at least half a day free. The more recent trips, since I retired, have been w/family or friends, staying in the same apartment each time, really "living" in Paris, shopping in the markets, getting my hair cut, wandering nowhere in particular. Because I use a walker, a rarity in Paris, several people approached me and began conversations about it. A few shopkeepers remembered me (actually my walker!) from visits in previous years. The latest trip was a gift from one of my grandsons, because he knew how happy I am when I talk about Paris! What a joy to experience my favorite place thru the eyes of him and his young family, who now, also, love Paris and are eager to return!

We all love Paris!

I had a lousy experience with Amtrak (sewer gas smell every time the toilet flushed) and they were willing to give me a credit for most of the bedroom cost. The credit was good for a year, for travel booked up to a year after that, so I was able to use most of it.

That's reassuring. I'm glad Amtrak was able to do the right thing for you.

Hello! Traveling to the Lake District (near Bariloche) in Argentina next February for 4 days with another couple in our late 20s/early 30s. We're staying at Llao Llao Hotel & Resort, but haven't made too many other arrangements. Any excursion (tour providers would be so helpful from any chatters who have been!) or dining suggestions in the area?

Chatters, can anyone offer help with Bariloche?

San Francisco, Brussels, Amsterdam. All have great food, great art, and great views.

Yes, they do.

Stonehenge. And you know why? Because I spent all my time there taking pictures and not savoring the fact that I was at STONEHENGE. (Facepalm)

Ah yes, the photo-taking trap.

A group of us will be traveling to Iceland in March. Since we will only be there for five days, do you know of any 'can't miss' outings for us? We are planning to rent a van. Also, how is the food there? I have heard lots of lamb and fish.

Have a look at the looong entry on Iceland I just published out a few minutes ago. I think it'll be helpful. Also asking the chatters -- thoughts, folks?

do not know about China, but I learned the hard way not to rely on my ATM card in Russia when it didn't work--because my bank (USAA) had set them not to work in that high fraud rate country. Moral: never rely on just one means of payment: cash can be stolen, ATMs not work, credit cards refused....but if you have at least one backup, it can prevent disaster (I was buying dinner for clients, restaurant wouldn't take credit card due "machine broken"....and then I couldn't get any Rubles from the ATM....nothing more embarrassing than asking clients for a whip-round for some USD to pay the bill!)

A yes, a good lesson to keep in mind. So mix it up, folks!

You guys are awesome! Thank you for the excellent help, always! A big fan. Barbara N

Not sure what we did, but I'm sure that you're welcome!

stayed in the COOLEST hostel -- art deco building in the heart of town. I could never get tired of walking the streets, buying produce at the market - so many berries that I never heard of! Best music and people-watching on the Esplande. I have a passion for Art Deco (was an art major) and even though they have a city art deco walk.....I wandered in the neighborhood and found several buildings with original decor that I could just walk into! Nothing more wonderful on vacation than secret treasure!

Sounds cool!

For the poster who asked about Iceland in March -- some of the info in the post about Iceland in June may be helpful, but March is not June and there are some roads, etc, that are not accessible. I went to Iceland in March and while it was not horribly cold, it was damp and chilly. I stayed only in Reykjavik, so can't really provide info about outings. I do recall there are companies that provide package tours, but some tours were only available in the summer months. Of course, there is the Blue Lagoon, which was nice on a chilly day!

Thanks for the pointers!

Will we be able to see the northern lights if we go to Iceland over Thanksgiving? Is that an okay time of the year to go? We don't mind the cold/dark so long as there are still things to do.

Need your help again, chatters!

Bluebird Cafe is wonderful, but be prepared to be there very early as the line forms and it only holds a very small number of people for each show. The music is great. Great breakfast place is the Pancake Pantry. It too can get a line forming early as many country performers go there. Best french toast my wife has ever had.

Great suggestions! Thanks.

You guys are really awesome! As a regular, I really appreciate your quick and plentiful replies... you and the Wed Food Section chat are my favorites!

Thanks, we're blushing!

So, OneWorld and SkyTeam decided to have a fare war. Seems they were trying to poach business class travelers from each others' European hubs. I ended up booking a BWI-MAD roundtrip for just over $1900 in business class on Delta. I've had Spain on my list for a while but haven't been actively planning anything until now. I have until May to make the rest of my plans, but I thought I'd see if anyone has any Spain favorites to throw out there. I am mainly interested in history and photography. My current idea is the spend the 2 weeks between Madrid and Andalusia generally. I'll need to fill the exact wheres as I do more research.

If you like history, maybe you'd like to take in some Roman sites. In Andalusia, there's lots to check out, as this recent story shows. I personally have always wanted to see Toledo. Chatters, your suggestions?

November is toward the beginning of the northern lights "season", but then again, sometimes they show up in summer, too! (We're going in February!)

p.s. - and then, Thanksgiving is at the end of November, so go for it!

New Year's Eve is a good time to be in the downtown area. As for Christmas restaurants...don't county on many being open.

Thanks for taking my questions. I have a fun vacation planned for the last two weeks of October, which will take some friends and me to Paris and other places. Most of the logistics are planned, except that I still need a hotel room for one night in Paris. Do you have any recommendations? I will be alone that one night and so would prefer a large hotel in a safe area. Ideally it would be located close to, or an easy commute from, the Gare Montparnasse. Also, do you have any suggestions for what to do with my afternoon alone? I have been to Paris before and will spend a week there with friends as part of this trip, so for my time alone I would love to do something quiet and not too tourist-y. Would love any suggestions you have for coffee shops, stores, churches, or any place in which I could get lost for an afternoon. Thank you!

Hmm. I usually recommend the Hotel Therese and (more recently) Hotel Joyce, but neither is super-closer to Gare Montparnasse, although they're not that far, either. But there are lots of hotels nearby, so I bet our chatters can come to the rescue.

You know that Gare is right near a fantastic attraction? Cemetery Montparnasse, where the likes of Sartre, de Beauvoir and Baudelaire are buried.

My husband is determined to do a one-night stopover in Reyjkavik in February en route to France. I guess we will have from about 9/10 am on arrival until 7 am the next morning to do Icelandic things. What can be seen/experienced in that short amount of time? We will not rent a car.


Hi. My family moved to Lexington, KY last year and we're done pretty well exploring things to do very close to here. Now we'd like to branch out and do some weekend trips to other cities close to here, but not sure what to tackle first. Do you have any recommendations for me? Out of state is fine, but I don't want to be in the car more than about 4-5 hours each way. Thanks!

Start with Louisville, which has a pleasant waterfront and is only about 90 minutes from Lexington. Next up would be Nashville, which is about a three-hour drive. If you like the outdoors, there are some nice public lands close to Lexington, including Daniel Boone National Forest

I saw from a semi reliable source that US dollars are generally accepted on the close Canadian side of Niagara Falls? Can that be true? Also, hoping that my US AT&T phone will work on 'the other side". Fingers crossed.

Often touristy areas and attractions on the border accept U.S. currency.  However, it's always a good idea to bring a small wad of local currency, in case you want to make spontaneous purchases at smaller establishments. You can also take out money from the ATM if need be. (Just check with your bank about surcharges.)

You will need an international plan for your phone to work and/or to avoid the roaming fees. I have Verizon and did not have service when passing through Western Canada. Call your provider for specific plan details.

For beach in fall, I suggest the Gulf Coast of Florida (e.g., Destin) or Alabama. Warm, calm water for small kids.

Yes, good idea.

This is the craziest thing I've ever heard that you can bring ice cubes through security but not water. Couldn't the ice cubes be made out of whatever they are afraid is in the water?

A very valid point! But let's not give the meanies any ideas. I have started to freeze leftovers (Mon's homemade chickpea and cauliflower soup, for example) that I transport from home to DC. And I have never been questioned by TSA since the food item is solid.

Oh hey - I'm going to Kennebunkport this weekend as well! If you want to copy off my exam, we're extending our trip with a night in Portland (sounds like lots of great restaurants) and a night in Camden (supposed to be really lovely small town, harbor cruises on big schooners seems to be a thing to do).

Yes -- A night in Portland is a great idea. My favorite eats/drinks include: Eventide, Slab, Standard Baking, Tandem Coffee, Pai Men Miyake. And Camden is gorgeous; check out Long Grain for beautiful Thai food there.

What is the point behind a 24-hour check-in? To me, it seems the whole point of a check-in is the airline knowing you are actually there, and will be getting on the flight. So much can change in 24 hours - everything from changing your mind to illness to traffic to going to the wrong airport.

The best explanation I've heard is that passengers who check in 24 hours before their flight are less likely to miss it. Some airlines don't assign seats until shortly before the flight, and certainly, checking in before the flight also gives the carrier an opportunity to upsell you on a "preferred" seat assignment or another ancillary fee. There's been some speculation that the 24-hour check-in may be phased out at some point, but so far that hasn't really happened for domestic flights. 

Hi! This is my first time posting, but I love reading the posts. I bought one of the cheap tickets on Norwegian Airlines and will be going to Norway in November for a quick weekend. I'm flying out on Friday evening and arriving Saturday morning in Oslo around 11. Then I'm flying out Sunday evening at about 5pm. What do you recommend I do for ~30 hours in Norway? I want to see some fjords and wander around Oslo for a bit. I'm currently planning on connecting by plane to Bergen and going on one of the fjord tours there then taking an overnight train back to Oslo and wandering around Oslo Sunday going to see the Nobel Peace Prize museum. Any suggestions for great fjord tours around Bergen or Oslo? I'm also not partial to Bergen and am going only because I have heard it's a great place to see some of the fjords and is easy to access. Also, any recommendations for not-to-miss places in Oslo? Thank you!

Wow, this sounds super-ambitious to me, but then I've never tried it. Chatters, doable?

I'm heading to a wedding in LA in two weeks, and with the exception of a night at the LAX Westin, I've never been. We'll be staying in Rancho Cucamonga and with only about 2 days, what are some can't miss spots (appreciate the food centric)?

Rancho Cucamonga is not all that close to the action in Los Angeles. It's east of the city, and with traffic, it can take an hour to get downtown L.A. and close to 90 minutes to get to the beach. Restaurants to check out in downtown L.A.  include Baco Mercat and Alma

If Scottish voters approve independence from the UK, any guesses what will the Scottish currency become?

The Scottish pound, no?

We were in Iceland for 24 hours and were able to see quite a lot around Reykjavik area. I imagine with 5 days the OP will be able to cover a lot of ground! We rented car from the airport, went to Blue Lagoon, had an evening in Reykjavik (try Cafe de Paris for a great surf and turf dinner--lamb and Icelandic lobster!). Next morning, left B&B, drove out to Strokkur and Gulfoss, then back to the airport. Travel was so easy, very good roads and very few cars. I would say stop for gas whenever you can, gas stations are few and far between. Also, make sure you have extra memory cards and extra charged batteries for your camera, I took lots of pictures, even from the car. An amazing trip!

I am no expert in explosives....but I imagine most of those materials won't freeze

About 20 years ago I didn't notice that they got me to sign off on the insurance that I had said I didn't want. I signed it so I didn't do anything about it, but I'll pay more per day to avoid them. I'm far more careful now.

I'm sorry to hear about your experience. If that ever happens to you again, you know who to call, right?

My son is planing his honeymoon for next June and is checking pricing online. They will be going out of the country (probably UK and Iceland) to places neither of them had been before so I suggested they contact a travel agent. As they are both students, funds are limited and they are afraid a travel agent will charge too much. I remember back in the days of my honeymoon, travel agents worked off of commission from the airlines, hotels, etc, and not from their clients but has that changed? Regardless, how does one go about finding a good travel agent for a specific area to visit?

Some countries certify travel agents who complete country-specific courses. But I think word-of-mouth is the best way to find someone. Travel agents do still work on commissions, although they no longer book airfare alone because the airlines don't pay them. But cruise lines and hotels still  work with travel agents. 

My parents have been through some rough times, lately-- dad's been in and out of the hospital and mom has been going above and beyond with the caregiving. Dad's now home again (hooray!), and mom is talking about the two of them getting away for a while (she really needs a break). Here are the challenges: He can walk and take a few stairs, but is mostly in the wheelchair. She'd like to take him for walks in his chair, but that means well-paved paths and no hills. They live near Virginia Beach and are looking for something that's a 4-7 hour drive from there. They like museums, history, nice scenery, wineries, fine dining. Basically, they're looking for an area that has a variety of things to do, so they can do something different each day. She likes to walk along the beach, and he likes to look at the beach. They've done the mountains and aren't particularly interested in that. They'd like a resort, but reasonably priced ($150-$250 range). Any suggestions? Thanks!!!

I would suggest Charleston or the North Carolina beach towns around Wilmington (the Cape Fear Coast). Both areas are pretty flat and developed enough so that you should be able to get around easily and fill your days and nights with tons of activities. For the North Carolina destination, take the ferry to Bald Head Island, where residents get around by golf cart.

Both destinations have numerous resorts. Best to check the tourism's Web sites or a hotel booking site for options.

I lived in Jerusalem for two years and nothing makes me happier than a return. Sitting on my cousin's porch, eating fruit from the surrounding fruit trees. Having a wind start up every evening. It's the best.


Don't forget that the AIRLINE may well cancel your flight after you've checked in online in advance, so don't forget to look online just before you leave for the airport. I speak from bitter experience.

Lots of Iceland questions today. If people are flying IcelandAir, you can book excursions for tours to geysers and waterfalls and such on the flight! We did not, we had rented a car (very worth doing!). But compare prices first!

And that's all she wrote, folks! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, and if we didn't get to your question, apologies! Come back next week and we'll try hard to answer more. There were lots of great cities that we all want to go back to, but I loved the story of the chatter's "virtual" return to Hamburg via a DVD of her grandmother's travels there as a teen. Send your contact info to me at, and I'll send you a little prize.


Thanks all again, and see you next week, as always!

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.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
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.
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