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Ask T+L: A Yearning for Yalta, Affordable Spa Weekend

It has always been my mother's dream to visit Yalta. What can you recommend for a 30th wedding anniversary? —T.Y., Gladstone, N.J.
A trip to Yalta, the Ukrainian coastal resort of the czars, is a fabulous gift. Fall and winter are mild there, thanks to the warm Black Sea; temperatures will dip into the fifties in November, but it rarely gets colder. Start by flying to the capital city of Kiev, via London; once there, connect to a flight to Simferopol and catch a bus to Yalta, a 21é2-hour ride away. For accommodations, try the Hotel Yalta (50 Drazhynskoho St.; 380-654/350-150, fax 380-654/353-093; doubles from $34). It may look like an austere concrete box, but it's your best bet for essentials like heat and hot water; it also has 10 bars, seven restaurants, and a private beach.

The hotel is not far from the Naberezhna Lenina, an embankment along the bay lined with artists' booths and food stalls. Also nearby is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, with its opulent Byzantine domes. If your parents are history buffs, take them two miles west of town to Livadia Palace, the Italianate summer estate of doomed Czar Nicholas II and the site of the famous 1945 conference between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. Farther down the coast is the Swallow's Nest, an over-the-top castle on a cliff above the sea.

Any suggestions for a spa weekend in the Northeast that won't break the bank? —M.K.B., Germany
Two hours southwest of Boston is Lebanon, Connecticut, where you'll find the Spa at Grand Lake (1667 Exeter Rd.; 800/843-7721 or 860/642-4306, fax 860/642-4799; www.thespaatgrandlake.com). The spa, set on 75 wooded acres, has a two-night package for $420, double. That includes three meals daily and exercise and yoga classes, plus one half-hour massage each night. Additional treatments aren't pricey: a self-heating mud wrap meant to relieve back tension is only $35.

Enough foliage! I want a funky new way to celebrate fall. —A.K., Richmond, Va.
It doesn't get any funkier than the annual Punkin Chunkin Championship, held the first weekend in November in Sussex County, Delaware, about an hour southeast of Dover. More than 20,000 people come to watch pumpkins being shot into the air by bizarre handmade contraptions. Some past contestants have employed medieval-style catapults; others have rigged up compressed-air cannons (one of the latter launched the vegetable 4,026 feet, a world distance record). Admission to the show is $6; registration of your own pumpkin shooter is $10. Visit www.punkinchunkin.com for details.

I'm flying to mainland China on business. What should I bring to my new associates? —C.V., Chicago, Ill.
Your choice of gift largely depends on your hosts' age and familiarity with Western culture, according to senior features editor Hal Lipper, who comes to T+L from the Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. "While many young urbanites no longer subscribe to traditional rules of gift giving, older executives may be offended if you break protocol," he says.

Bring something for everyone you'll meet, from clerical staff (they'll love Western chocolates) to middle management, who'll be pleased with fragrances, cosmetics, samplers of U.S. liquors, and electronic gadgets (as long as they aren't made in China). Senior management should receive designer-label goods or top-shelf cognac, since the Chinese tend to be brand- and price-conscious.

Numerology and symbolism are important among older Chinese, so package gifts in even numbers — but avoid the numeral four (it sounds like death in Cantonese). Red and gold wrapping paper signifies good luck and prosperity; steer clear of white, black, and blue, which represent death or mourning. Lipper also recommends presenting the gifts with both hands, a sign of respect.

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