From accumulated e-mail and snail mail ...
Gary J. is excited. And rightly so. In February he's off to Rome for the very first time. And he has some serious questions.
Should he rent a car or use public transport to get around? Where should he stay to be close to all the action? What are the best resources to consult before he goes?
His main interest, he says, is in the city's architecture, culture, history, and cuisine. And topping his "must see" list are Vatican City, the Colosseum, and the Trevi Fountain.
Gary has set aside four nights/five days - which is about as long we'd need to fully answer his questions! But maybe this short version will help him - and anyone else planning to visit Rome next year.
Our first piece of advice, based on several visits over the past decade, is to try to extend the stay to at least a week. Rome is the kind of place that needs plenty of time to properly appreciate and soak up the extraordinary atmosphere. Furthermore, as airfare is by far the greatest component of any overseas budget, a couple of extra days there will actually cost very little in real terms.
As far as getting around Rome is concerned, don't even think of renting a car! The traffic situation in Rome is beyond chaotic. It's frightening and confusing. And that's just for pedestrians! You'll do much better on foot or using the Metro. While not the most widespread, perhaps, it's clean and cheap, and it can whisk you out to most of the major sites. Multiple trip tickets can be purchased at any Metro ticket counter.
Before starting out, pick up maps and tour options from a city tourist office. But don't expect much personal attention; the Italians don't do that very well. You'll do much better at a particularly helpful private tourist office we know of called Enjoy Rome. It's run for English-speaking tourists by English speakers - New Zealanders and Aussies, mostly. It's just three blocks from the train station at 39 Via Varese (www.enjoyrome.com)
Our preferred address for many years has been the Hotel Venezia (or its sister hotel, The Columbia), owned and run by the charming Diletti family. It's an oasis of calm and comfort - and they never forget our birthdays. (Hotel Venezia, 18 Via Varese (www.hotelvenezia.com).
Both of the beautiful properties are four blocks or so from the main Termini train station - far enough to be out of the grunge that surrounds many city stations, but within easy walking distance if arriving by train from the airport or another Euro-city.
There are also several other hotels of different price categories in the immediate vicinity.
As to recommended guide books for Rome, try these:
Darla C. refers to our recent column on Auschwitz and wants to know the best way of getting "from Toledo to Poland." She's planning to go with her husband and 14-year-old daughter next summer.
As mentioned previously, flying within Europe on "no-frills" airlines is a terrific bargain these days, so our recommendation would be to fly from Detroit to London Heathrow. Transfer by coach to Luton Airport, and take WIZZ Air (www.wizzair.com) to Warsaw. (about $70 round-trip).
Auschwitz is best accessed from Krakow, however, so Darla should also check on direct flights between Heathrow or Luton and Krakow. Alternatively, Krakow is a two-hour train ride from Warsaw.
A word of caution. Death camps like Auschwitz are emotionally draining for mature adults, so exposing 14-year-olds to their horrors should be done rather carefully.
Mike and Sue are considering a trip to Ireland for 7-10 days, focusing on the smaller cities and the countryside. They are low-budget travelers and like to use public transportation. They're looking at mid-October to early November and would like some input.
Dates first. We'd opt for an early October departure because the weather should be better and they'll have more activities and attractions from which to choose.
Getting around the more remote parts of Ireland by train or public transport is not very practical for tourists, so we'd recommend renting a small car - and getting used to right-hand drive before you set out!
Given your seven-day time frame, we'd probably fly into Dublin and spend two or three days at Hanora's Cottage in the Nire valley, County Waterford, our all-time favorite Irish hideaway (www.hanorascottage.com). Then make your way on to Kinsale, Ireland's culinary capital, and tour the Dingle peninsula (staying at Doyle's Seafood Bar and Townhouse in Dingle (www.doylesofdingle.com) before working up to the Galway area, flying out of Shannon.