August 2000
Photo: Javier Salas

q. Where can I go in Spain to learn to play real Spanish guitar?--K.B., Seattle, Wash.
a. Arturo Martinez, a guitarist at Fazil's Time Circle, a prominent flamenco center in Manhattan, says the most common way of finding a guitar teacher is to hang out in cafés or go to concerts; towns in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, a mecca for flamenco, are a good place to start. Look for a player whose technique and style you admire, Martinez suggests, and then approach him or her for instruction (it helps to know a little Spanish to break the ice). One of the best opportunities for mentor-shopping takes place this September, when the city of Seville holds the Bienal de Flamenco, a monthlong festival of dancers, singers, and musicians that's the largest flamenco event in the world. In addition to scheduled concerts, there are countless impromptu jam sessions in every plaza and paseo.

When you're in Seville, Martinez advises, check out the restaurant Carbonería (18 Calle Levies; 34-95/456-3749). After midnight, you may catch flamenco greats like Carlos Jerezia strumming gypsy-style in the garden. Drink enough sangria and work up the nerve to ask him for lessons. If you're in Madrid, Ilisa Rosal, principal dancer and artistic director of La Rosa Flamenco Theatre in Miami, highly recommends guitarist David Serva, a transplanted San Franciscan who has lived in the capital for 30 years (34-91/369-3865). He gives lessons -- in English or Spanish -- and will also refer prospective students to other teachers.

q. I'm going to Prague, and I want to take my dog along. Are there any special regulations I should know about?--C.S., New York, N.Y.
a. Traveling abroad with pets can get complicated. Some countries require miles of extra paperwork; the United Kingdom imposes a six-month quarantine on any animals not from Western Europe. But in the Czech Republic, all you'll need is a certificate that proves your pet has no diseases, available from your vet in the United States.

q. What's the deal with car-rental insurance?I hate buying something I don't need. --A.D., Portland, Oreg.
If you own a car, your auto insurance probably protects you against personal injury and property damage claims. And many charge cards -- American Express, Discover, Visa and MasterCard Gold -- offer coverage as well. But if you aren't covered in either of these ways, you'll have to agree to the rental company's collision-damage waiver. The CDW is not insurance, but merely a provision that covers the cost of damages to the rental car. It may add as much as $20 daily to your rental, but if you're in an accident, spending $20 is better than forking over $20,000 to replace the car.

q. I want to dive the Great Barrier Reef but have no idea where to start. --I.V.P., Needham, Mass.
No wonder you feel overwhelmed: Australia's Great Barrier Reef is 1,400 miles long (imagine driving from Boston to Little Rock) with more than 100,000 square miles of divable areas; it's home to 400 species of coral and 2,000 kinds of fish. Unfortunately, there are just about as many dive companies in towns up and down the reef. We recommend Great Adventures (61-7/4044-9944) in Cairns, a town on Australia's northeastern coast that's the usual starting point for excursions on the Great Barrier Reef. Although it's one of Cairns's largest tour operators, GA keeps its expeditions small (no more than 16 people go on any one dive, while other groups jam as many as 100 onto a boat). The company offers individual dives for $55 and an all-day tour starting at $135 that features meals on a pontoon anchored at the outer reefs and close-up views of coral from a semi-submersible craft.

E-mail your questions to, fax them to 800/926-1748, or mail them to: Ask T+L, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, 10th floor, New York, NY 10036. We regret that questions can be answered only in the column.