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Ask T+L: Swiss Culture, Last-minute Illness, Rio Hotels

Are there any must-see modern-art museums near Basel, Switzerland?
—R.B., VIA E-MAIL

Right outside town is Renzo Piano's spare Fondation Beyeler (101 Baselstrasse, Riehen; 41-61/645-9700; www.beyeler.com ), the ideal space for Hildy and Ernst Beyeler's collection of Giacometti statues, Picasso paintings, African art, and more. A Calder-Miró exhibition runs through September 5. Twenty minutes away, in Germany, is the Frank Gehry-designed Vitra Design Museum (1 Charles-Eames-Strasse, Weil am Rhein; 49-7621/702-3200; www.design-museum.de ), where a show on the architecture of air travel runs through the end of the year. Also be sure to tour recent Pritzker Prize winner Zaha Hadid's first building, the Fire Station. Just over an hour from Basel by train, in the medieval town of Schaffhausen, is the Hallen für Neue Kunst (23 Baumgartenstrasse; 41-52/625-2515; www.modern-art.ch ), a former textile factory overlooking the Rhine that now houses conceptual and minimalist pieces by Carl Andre, Joseph Beuys, and Robert Ryman.

A few weeks before I was scheduled to travel to Wellington, New Zealand, I was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. I'd already paid for a nonrefundable stay at the InterContinental Wellington. Even though I had a written explanation from my doctor, the hotel refused to give me a refund. Don't hotels make exceptions to nonrefundable rates in case of serious illness?
—A.M.P., WASHINGTON, D.C.

If your rate is advertised as nonrefundable, it probably is—whether or not a doctor corroborates your claim. Unlike most major airlines, which give ill passengers a year to rebook their flight (for a fee), hotels tend to be more rigid. Once you make a reservation you enter into a contract with the hotel, explains Tia Gordon of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. However, even hotel groups with binding cancellation policies may make exceptions. Joanna Ong, InterContinental's communications manager for the Asia-Pacific region, says if a sick customer provides doctor certification of an illness, he or she will be allowed to reschedule the trip. "When the customer can't change dates," Ong says, "then, as a gesture of goodwill, we will usually give a refund." Try appealing to the hotel's general manager. But the best guarantee against losing a nonrefundable payment is to purchase trip insurance with a company such as Travelex (www.travelex-insurance.com ).

I'm planning a vacation in Rio and I am looking for an affordable, stylish boutique hotel. Any ideas?
—T.P., VIA E-MAIL

The recently opened Hotel Portinari (17 Rua Francisco Sá; 55-21/3288-8800; www.hotelportinari.com.br ; doubles from $130, including breakfast ), named after Brazilian Modernist painter Cándido Portinari, turned over its 66 rooms to 10 of the country's top architects and designers, including Chicô Gouvea and Hélio Fraga. Styles range from the spare neutrals of Gilmar Peres's eco-conscious suites on the eighth floor to the blue tiles and crisp white linens on Stella de Orleans e Bragança's maritime-inspired 11th and 12th floors. And the location can't be beat: the hotel is just 164 feet off Copacabana Beach. • Though slightly more expensive, the Hotel Marina All Suites (696 Avda. Delfim Moreira; 55-21/2172-1100; www.marinaallsuites.com.br ; doubles from $230 ) is directly on Leblon Beach. Eight suites have been styled by local architects and decorators; the remaining 30are arrayed in bright colors. Views of the surf from the rooftop pool and its ultra-hip bar (rated one of the best in the city by Veja magazine) attract a fashion-forward crowd.

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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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