Trip Coach: October 4, 2005

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Budget Travel editors answer your questions

Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. We'll be answering your questions all afternoon.

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Ithaca, NY: What is the best way to find best deal on airfare out on NYC arriving in Florence and departing from Venice? We are planning a mid Feb or a late March trip. Many thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: The major booking sites--Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity-- and aggregators such as kayak.com and sidestep.com either don't allow travelers to search for such bookings, or they make it very difficult to do so. Their search models generally only work for simple round trip flights. The more complicated route type, called open-jaw (into one airport, out of another), is an easy way to save time, and sometimes money when planning a trip. That is, of course, if you can figure out how to book one. The easiest way to do so is by going to straight to the airlines that fly to both your inbound and outbound airports. Florence and Venice aren't allowed to accept trans-Atlantic flights, so you'll have to get a connecting flight each way. Many European carriers are possibilities, including Alitalia and Lufthansa. But the thing is, it's way too early to expect to find a good price. The airlines tend to keep their rates high for travel booked this far out, figuring if someone needs specific dates so far ahead, they'll be willing to pay a lot. So if you want to find a deal and have a bit of flexibility with dates, wait until early December or perhaps even a few weeks into the new year. Chances are much greater that one or more airlines will have discounted fares by then. February and March are fairly slow travel times to Italy, so you should be fine in terms of waiting that late in the game.

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Glendale, Calif.: Hello! We are going to Italy next week! We want to know from Ancona can we drive the coast to Venice and how long would that take? Or should we leave our car and take the train Venice? Any help would be appreciated!

Budget Travel Editors: The trip from Ancona to Venice is about 135 miles. You can certainly drive, and the fastest way would be to take the Autostrada up the coast and then cut in to Bologna, at which point you'll angle back east toward Venice; the trip should take no more than 3 1/2 hours. (Autostrade.it has maps of all the roads in Italy, though the site is in Italian). However, considering that you can't drive once you're in Venice, it may be easier to simply take the train. It's only about a 4 hour ride, with a transfer in Bologna, and you'll still have beautiful views of the coast--with less stress (go to trenitalia.it for schedules). Plus, it could work out to be cheaper; the autostrada tolls are $20 alone, before the car rental fee and gas. And train tickets are only $30 apiece.

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Tampa, FL: We are going to Vermont in October and would like to know where the best charming B&B's are for a date weekend after 15 years of marriage.

Budget Travel Editors: Congratulations on your 15 years! You two have picked a gorgeous time for a romantic Vermont getaway--prime fall foliage season. One of the most idyllic corners is the "Northeast Kingdom," the counties of Orleans, Essex and Caledonia, distinguished by sleepy towns, dense forests, and placid lakes. Run by a couple who live on the premises, the Federal-style Inn on the Common in historic Craftsbury (75 miles east of Burlington), will place you in the heart of the kingdom. Rooms are on the pricier side, starting at $189/night with full breakfast and up to $279 for a garden view with a whirlpool tub, but are well worth it if you're up for a splurge (innonthecommon.com). Cheaper rates (doubles with a shared bath $95; $105 for a private bath, full breakfast included) can be found at the four-room Riverbend B&B in the tiny town of Troy, where there are trails for horseback riding and hiking and the nearby Missisquoi River for canoeing (riverbendvt.com). The 28-room Horizon Inn, surrounded by the Green Mountains, has similarly low rates (doubles from $99 on weekdays; from $105 on weekends) and is located in the larger town of Wilmington, home to a flea market on weekends. There's an indoor heated pool and a sauna, and boat rides are available on the nearby Harriman Reservoir (horizoninn.com).

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Avon, IN: : My husband and I (both mid 60's) would like to go to Switzerland Fall '06 and do some hiking. We are interested in 3-4 day self-quided hut to hut hike. Any suggestions on whom to contact to set this up, hiking areas, and accommodations before and after the hike. We are avid hikers, last year hiking Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch, and this year hiking Half Dome in Yosemite. Hope to spend 2-3 weeks in Switzerland, northern Italy, and Austria.

Budget Travel Editors: The Alps is a great location for self-guided hut-to-hut hiking. Throughout northern Italy, France and Switzerland there are strings of huts along hiking routes so you can venture out for two days or fourteen. We wrote an entire piece about hut-to-hut hiking in the How section of our July/August 2005 issue. One of the most dramatic (and popular) Alp trails is The Haute Route, from Chamonix to Zermatt. While the whole route takes fourteen days, hikers can get an excellent introduction to the area by hiking only the first three days. You can plan the details of your trip on your own (hut reservations are recommended). Since huts are run by local alpine clubs, and the Swiss Alpine Club's site (sac-cas.ch) is only in German and French, we recommend picking up Lonely Planet's Walking in the Alps, by Helen Fairbairn for specific trail information. Or you can contact travel companies such as Distant Journeys (distantjourneys.com) to set up all the bookings and arrange all the details of a self-guided trip through the Alps for you. Prices for a 10-day Haute Route hike begin at $1,495, though shorter, customized trips are also available.

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Cooper City, FL: We are a family of 4 traveling to London and Paris for the winter break. We have 7 days in London, but would like to leave there and go to Prague or Rome for 2-3 days. Any suggestions? The kids are 17 and 11. Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: You've picked four top-notch European cities packed with all sorts of sights and things to do, so there's no shortage of possible suggestions. Our Snap Guides to London and to Paris would make a good starting off point for reading up on places to stay, some kid-friendly attractions (giant ferris wheel the London Eye; Madame Tussauds wax museum), shops, and tips for savvy travel. The London Dungeon's life-like dioramas of torture tactics and exhibits on dashing and dirty rascals like Jack the Ripper have a gruesome appeal, as do the Parisian catacombs, lined with the bones of six million locals. In Paris, you can opt for less conventional roller skate or Da Vinci Code city tours.

In Rome, drop by the Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth), stick your hand in the gaping mouth and risk having it chopped off if you've lied lately--according to legend and the film Roman Holiday, at any rate. The city's layers of history and drama seem tailor-made for curious kids. For a quick lesson, the Time Elevator at Via Dei SS. Apostoli, 20, is a motion simulator that whisks you through Rome's turbulent past. After visiting Trevi Fountain and tossing the obligatory coin over your back shoulder to ensure a return visit, you could check out the nearby Museum of Pasta, Piazza Scanderbeg 117, which takes a lighthearted look at this starchy favorite through the ages. Also near Trevi is popular gelato spot, San Crispino's, Via della Panetteria 42. The Villa Borghese, Rome's Central Park, makes a refreshing afternoon break from potential art-overload. Depending on the weather, you could rent boats, bicycles and even a pedal-powered contraption seating up to six.

Last but not least, Prague is home to picture-perfect spires, towers and castles. Old Town Square is outfitted with a beautiful and prominent astronomical clock, with shuttered windows that open to reveal figures that animate on the hour from 8 AM to 8 PM. At Prague Castle, be sure to stroll down Golden Lane, marked by quaint and brightly colored 15th century houses, some of which now showcase period armor and textiles. You can even learn to shoot a crossbow (it's heavier than you think).

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Rockford, Ill.: I would like to plan a trip to Northern Italy for the year 2006 and would like to know the best time of year to go. It will be for 4-5 people and need it to be about 8-9 days in length. We would fly to Rome and then want to see Florence and Venice or open to suggestions. Thanks.

Budget Travel Editors: Well, the best time of year to visit Northern Italy depends on whether you're planning on (or are interested in) attending the 2006 winter Olympics in Turin, in the beautiful region of Piedmont, known among other things for its truffles, Barolo wine, and chocolate: tripadvisor.com

If you're planning on seeing Rome, Florence, and Venice in 8-9 days, I don't imagine you'll have time for Northern Italy. In fact, seeing Italy's three great cities in less than a week I think is HIGHLY ambitious. My advice would be to pick one city, two max, and concentrate on those. If you have your heart set on all three, then I suggest TourCrafters' 3-city package. For $1,269, you get roundtrip airfare from the US, two nights in each city, and train tickets: tourcrafters.com. Please note that this offer is only valid through October, but will likely be offered in some form over the winter (and probably for less). Its week-long Rome-Florence package with air, is $1,099. Another company, I'd suggest looking into is: Gate 1 Travel. You can peruse their long list of Italy specials here: gate1travel.com.

As far as the best time of year to visit goes, I think if season isn't so important than I'd recommend avoiding the crowds, especially in Venice. November through March are ideal for having these cities more or less to yourself. Early spring in April and May are beautiful if you want warmer weather, and avoid going June through mid-Sept., if you can, when prices are high and lines are long.

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La Habra, Calif.: I will be traveling to Europe with my 3 daughters (4 traveling) ages 16, 20, 22 and 51. we will be flying into London staying afew days and heading to Italy and France. What would be the easist and most economical way to travel for our first trip to Europe?

Budget Travel Editors: Europe is much smaller than it once was. Twenty-five years ago your only option would have been to get a monster rail pass, bringing you from London to Paris, then say, from Paris to Rome. The entire trip would take multiple days and you'd spend more time on a train then you ever wanted--especially when it's your first time on the continent. Fortunately you have plenty of options at your fingertips making travel across Europe inexpensive, quick, and easy.

First of all, you might want to consider a dual-country railpass. A one-month youth ticket (for folks under 26) costs $615, an expense only worth it if you take long trips on the train almost every day--hich no one should do. Try something more cost-effective and better suited to you needs such as a France'n Italy Youth Pass (perfect for your daughters), with 10 days of train travel in both countries during a two-month span for $337 (raileurope.com or railpass.com).

In addition, flying within Europe used to be far too expensive, but thanks to the growth of no-frills airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, hopping a flight is often quicker and cheaper than the train or bus. Be warned that the no-frills carriers often fly into airports that are far from the city center and they typically charge extra if you're checking a bag that weighs more than 40 pounds. For a list of airline consult lowcostairlineseurope.org.

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Arlington, VA: My husband and I will be meeting another couple (residents of Switzerland) for a four-day weekend in Ireland, in early January. We are all from Seattle, though, so the rain doesn't deter us! We plan to find a self-catering flat in a town/city for the weekend, but we do not want the hassle or expense of renting a car. Do you have any suggestions for a city that we could have as a base from which we can explore areas of natural beauty (I envision walks along the coastline, etc....) but without a car?

Budget Travel Editors:
Like the Irish say, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, so it already seems like you've got the right spirit. Good job! We're sure you'll have a blast. As for those long walks along the coastline sans automobile, you just might fall in love with the Dingle Peninsula. On the southwest coast, it's quite possibly one of the most pictureseque places in all of Ireland and it's best explored by bike. As for getting there without a car, you'd have to get yourself to Tralee and take a bus. Driving in Ireland is a breeze, but if you're not up for it, check out the schedule and prices from Bus Eireann, Ireland's national bus company at buseireann.ie.

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