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Ask T+L: Cultural Tours, Cruising Deals, Martha's Vineyard Restaurants

Can you recommend an organized trip to Europe with a focus on art or architecture?
—W.W., BALTIMORE, MD.

Smithsonian Journeys' Paris to Provence: The Road to Impressionism (800/528-8147; www.smithsonianjourneys.org; October 7-17; from $2,099 per person, excluding airfare) features a visit to the Musée d'Orsay, home to France's most extensive collection of Impressionist art, and a day in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, where van Gogh painted Wheat Field with Cypress. A private walking tour of Bath's Roman and Georgian buildings—such as the Royal Crescent and the baths—kicks off Tauck World Discovery's nine-day trip London, Bath, and the Cotswolds (800/788-7885; www.tauck.com; starting September 8, 19, or 29; from $2,790 per person, excluding airfare). Islamic architecture is the focus of ACE Study Tours' Ottoman Turkey (44-1223/835-055; www.study-tours.org; October 13-23; from $1,794 per person, including airfare from London). Middle East specialist Peter Clark leads guests through Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Green Tomb in Bursa, and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.

My husband and I would like to take a cruise this fall. Do you have any tips on how to find a great deal?
—R.P., SEATTLE, WASH.

Summer is traditionally a good time to find values on September and October cruises, especially in the Caribbean and Alaska, says Anne Campbell, editor of the on-line magazine CruiseMates.com. Travel agents who specialize in cruises will save you time and money. (See our A-List of super-agents at www.travelandleisure.com/alist, or check out www.nacoaonline.com or www.cruising.org for agents.) There are dozens of excellent booking services on-line—www.cruise411.com, www.cruise.com, and the cruise section of Travelocity.com, to name a few. Two other sites allow agents to vie for your business. On Cruisecompete.com, you plug in your desired ship and dates and the company's software sends your request to nearly 100 agents, who will get back to you with competing offers in just a few hours. CruiseMates.com's Bargain Finder is similar, but since your request is posted on a bulletin board, only agents who happen to scan it will be able to submit deals to you. (Both companies keep your e-mail address private.) On these "reverse auction" sites, you can get both unbeatable savings and the benefit of direct contact with an agent. If you are flexible about dates, there are plenty of last-minute specials on-line and off. Due to security checks, however, you must book at least 72 hours before departure.

Which restaurants on Martha's Vineyard should I try on my first visit to the island?
—J.S., PRINCETON, N.J.

The latest addition to the Vineyard's restaurant scene is Lure (31 Dunes Rd., Edgartown; 508/627-3663; dinner for two $80), where chef Ed Gannon, formerly of the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, prepares local Sweet Neck Farm oysters on the half shell and thyme-roasted Chatham cod served with porcini mushrooms, leeks, and shallot-whipped potatoes. Fishermen and landlubbers alike have been ordering their chowder at Home Port (512 North Rd., Menemsha; 508/645-2679; dinner for two $70) since 1931. Wear your lobster bib—this island classic serves the Vineyard's favorite crustacean seven ways. (Remember to BYOB: because of a Prohibition-era restriction, most island towns are dry. Only restaurants in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs serve alcohol.) Once you've ordered at Zephrus (Mansion House Inn, 9 Main St., Vineyard Haven; 508/693-3416; dinner for two $90), your server can suggest a bottle of wine from a nearby shop—and have it delivered before your yellowfin-tuna salad arrives.

WRITE TO US
Fax queries to 800/926-1748, click here to e-mail them, or mail them to Ask T+L, 1120 Ave. of the Americas, 10th floor, New York, NY 10036. We regret that questions can be answered only in the column.

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