Ask T+L: Passport Renewal, Panama Tour, Europe Fares, Montreal
Reader's Find Australia
While visiting friends in Brisbane recently, I took a trip to Montville, an artists' colony 70 miles away. I stayed at a wonderful inn near the Sunshine Coast called the Spotted Chook (176 Western Ave.; 61-7/5442-9242; www.spottedchook.com ; doubles from $135 ), situated on a mountain with panoramic valley views. The owners, Leeroy and Jane Hutton, inspired by their travels in rural France, have created light, airy rooms with claw-foot tubs. Jane is a wonderful cook, who can whip up fresh scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, or French waffles with poached pears—perfect breakfasts to sustain you for a day of gallery hopping. —Diane Ragusa, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
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I'm leaving on a trip next month and just dug out my passport—it expires in two weeks! How can I get a new one quickly?
—Robert Dominguez, El Paso, Tex.
Your best bet for rapid passport renewal is to use an expediter—more than 20 companies are listed on the Web site of the National Association of Passport and Visa Services (www.napvs.org ). Securing one of the limited processing slots allotted to a company, however, may take more work than it once did. According to Robert Smith, executive director of NAPVS, the demand for expedited passports has increased by more than 20 percent since 2004, while the government Passport Services Office has reduced the number of applications these companies are allowed to submit. Smith advises calling several expediters until you find one who can help you. You should assemble all of the necessary materials ahead of time: a completed DS-82 form, a letter authorizing the company to process your passport, two recent two-by-two-inch photos, and a copy of your itinerary. The sooner you need your new passport, the more you will pay: a 24-hour turnaround can cost upward of $150, in addition to $127 in government fees and extra shipping costs. Most expediters accept checks, money orders, and credit cards for fees involved.
I'll be traveling to Montreal this fall and want to stay near the city center. Any ideas?
—Kelly Peck, New York, N.Y.
T+L's resident Canada expert, Amy Farley, suggests trying a B&B in or around the old city. Here are three options: Auberge Les Passants du Sans Soucy (171 Rue St. Paul W.; 514/842-2634; www.lesanssoucy.com ; doubles from $139 ), set in a renovated 18th-century warehouse in Old Montreal, has nine rooms with original stone walls, wood floors, and wrought-iron beds. For an even more intimate inn, try Le Petit Prince (1384 Overdale; 514/938-2277; www.montrealbandb.com ; doubles from $180 ), where four cozy rooms have brick walls, down comforters, and wood-burning fireplaces. The famous shopping boulevard St. Catherine is just two blocks away. Four adjoining century-old town houses make up Les Bons Matins (1401 Ave. Argyle; 800/588-5280 or 514/931-9167; www.bonsmatins.com ; doubles from $106 ). Reserve a suite for a whirlpool, terrace, and kitchen. This is a great place for families—one of the units is 2,250 square feet and accommodates up to eight people.
Are there any good Web sites for booking flights on intra-Europe low-fare carriers?
—Tally Beck, Mobile, Ala.
Skylow.com is a new resource for navigating the cheapest fares on 64 low-cost carriers. Search for more than 10,000 city combinations in more than 80 countries. Skyscanner.net compares prices for airlines that serve all of Europe and parts of Asia. An interactive route map makes booking quick and simple: just click on your desired departure and destination cities, and the site brings up available routes and price ranges for the next four months of the year. Dohop.com searches flights on more than 660 low-cost and network airlines around the world. Check out the InfoPages feature, which lists countries alphabetically and gives practical, up-to-date information on airports, cities, and the airlines that serve a particular region.
Which outfitters arrange the best tours of Panama?
—Jerry Land, Easton, Mass.
Abercrombie & Kent (800/554-7016; www.abercrombieandkent.com ; trips from $3,835 ) has a new 10-day itinerary that's a perfect introduction to the country: you'll explore the interior's extensive rain forests, see the Panama Canal from a small speedboat, and follow the old routes of the Spanish conquistadors. For a stay at Punta Caracol Acqua-Lodge, a Caribbean ecolodge on stilts, try Big Five Tours & Expeditions (800/244-3483; www.bigfive.com ; trips from $2,225 ). You can snorkel in the well-preserved Coral Cay and ride a tram through the canopy forests of Soberania National Park. With International Expeditions (800/633-4734; www.ietravel.com ; trips from $2,398 ), you can ride the historic Panama Railroad from the Pacific to the Caribbean, venture down the Lower Chagres River, and walk parts of the Las Cruces Trail.