May 1998

Assisi...Greek Isles...In-Line Skating Tours...Beyond Borscht in Moscow

Is Assisi back in shape after last fall's earthquake?Can I do anything to help?-- P.F., New York, N.Y.
Central Italy is still getting on its feet after the series of tremors that left 20 dead and some 10,000 homeless. Treasured historical shrines, such as the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and Spoleto's cathedral, did not escape unscathed (but remain open to visitors during restoration). "It is the world's responsibility to respond to the critical needs of Umbria," says Laurie Beckelman, vice president of the World Monuments Fund. "People's lives will never be the same." Donations for humanitarian assistance should be sent to the American Red Cross, Box 3757, Church Street Station, New York, NY 10008; write Assisi Earthquake on the check. To help rebuild artistic and historical sites, contact the World Monuments Fund/Assisi, 949 Park Ave., New York, NY 10028.

Would you recommend an untouristy Greek island?I want white villas, good beaches, and not much else. -- T.E., Newport Beach, Calif.
Several in the Cyclades fill the bill. Antiparos, reached by ferry from Páros, is close enough to the latter that you can find a little nightlife if you want it. Small, rocky Folégandros and Amorgos -- both a ferry ride from Piraeus -- also have terrific beaches. Folégandros's old quarter is wonderful; on Amorgos, check out the Monastery of Hozoviotíssas, built into a cliff. Even on these islands summer can be busy, so book early (or wait until September; the water is warmest then). For more information, contact the Greek National Tourist Organization at 212/421-5777.

Is there anywhere special we should eat in Moscow?-- J.P.G., Austin, Tex.
The development boom in Moscow means that new restaurants are opening constantly. Not all survive, so call before you go -- which you should do anyway, to make reservations. Le Gastronome is a popular hangout with "California-Russian" food, in an old supermarket building in one of the Stalinist towers on Moscow Ring Road (1 Kudrinskaya Square; 7-095/255-4554; dinner for two $100). A sweet, old-time café near Patriarch's Ponds, Margarita serves light meals and great mushroom soup (28 Malaya Bronnaya St.; 7-095/299-6534; dinner for two $45). At U Pirosmani (4 Novodevichy Proyezd; 7-095/247-1926; dinner for two $100), where President Clinton ate in 1996, you'll find spicy Georgian food like dolmas (meat and rice in grape leaves) and chicken in walnut sauce. And the Starlite Diner -- a replica of the American classic -- just opened a second location, at Oktyabrskaya Square (lunch for two $30).

We're tired of walking and biking trips. Does anyone do in-line skating excursions?-- E.G., Boulder, Colo.
According to the International Inline Skating Association, more than 27 million Americans in-line skate, so it's surprising that the big walking- and biking-trip organizers have yet to jump on the trend. In fact, only one company has: Zephyr Inline Skate Tours (888/758-8687 or 612/377-8489; $485‚$1,665, not including airfare), which started trips to Holland -- it's flat -- last summer. This year, from April to October, Zephyr is offering trips to Pennsylvania's Amish country (three days), San Francisco and the Sonoma Valley (three and five days), southern Minnesota (six days), and the Netherlands (seven days). The tours involve anywhere from 12 to 40 miles of skating a day, depending on your level. You'd like to practice a bit more before you go?Try California's Camp Santa Rosa, an in-line skating camp (July 2‚5, July 11‚12; 800/959-3385; from $100 per day, including breakfast and lunch). Skaters can choose from 18 classes, including "Roller Boogie," "Freestyle Pairs," and one you won't want to miss: "Stopping."

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