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Business Hours The following are general open hours; specific establishments may vary. Businesses and offices are open from Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Banks' hours are usually Monday to Friday 9am to 4 or 5pm, Saturday 10am to 1pm. Many banks offer 24-hour access to ATMs. Shops' operating hours are likely to be daily from 10am to 6pm. Last calls at bars and nightclubs range from midnight to 2am.

Electricity The U.S. uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Emergencies Call tel. 911 for emergencies, fire, ambulance, or police.

Internet Access Free Internet access is available at all Saint Paul Public Library locations (to find one, call tel. 651/266-7000 or go to www.stpaul.lib.mn.us) and throughout the Hennepin County Library system, which serves Minneapolis (tel. 952/847-8500; www.hclib.org). Free Wi-Fi access is available at many local cafes, including Panera (tel. 612/338-9850; www.panerabread.com) in Minneapolis and Caribou Coffee (tel. 651/225-0844; www.cariboucoffee.com) in St. Paul. Most hotels offer Wi-Fi to guests for free or at a nominal charge. If you aren't bringing a laptop with you, keep in mind that many hotels offer business centers with internet access.

Liquor Laws The legal age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages in the U.S. is 21; proof of age is required at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so bring ID when you go out. Beer, wine, and hard liquor can be purchased at liquor stores. Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption. Driving while intoxicated is considered a criminal offense.

Mail At press time, domestic postage rates were 27¢ for a postcard and 42¢ for a letter. For international mail, first-class postcards and letters weighing up to 1 ounce cost 94¢ (72¢ to Canada and Mexico).You can buy stamps and mailing supplies at any post office; to find locations, call 800/275-8777 or go to www.usps.com.

Newspapers & Magazines The Twin Cities' major papers are the Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) and the Pioneer Press (www.twincities.com). The leading regional magazine is Mpls.St.Paul Magazine (www.mspmag.com), which is published monthly.

Pets To bring your pet to either of the Twin Cities, you must have a health certificate for your pet supplied by a state-licensed veterinary clinic. Most airlines allow pets on flights, but require pets to be at least eight weeks old. Some regional hotels, such as the artsy Chambers Hotel (tel. 612/767-6900; www.chambersminneapolis.com) in Minneapolis and the historic Best Western Bandana Square (tel. 651/647-1637; www.bestwestern.com) in St. Paul, are pet-friendly.

Police For emergencies, dial tel. 911. This is a free call. To call the Minneapolis Police Department, dial tel. 612/348-2345; to contact the St. Paul Police Department, call tel. 651/266-5588.

Safety Like most larger cities, the Twin Cities do have their share of crime, though much of it is drug- and gang-related and relegated to a few bad areas. After a steady, years-long increase, the violent-crime rate fell 6% in St. Paul and 12.5% in Minneapolis between 2006 and 2007. However, you should still take the usual common-sense precautions: Avoid deserted areas, especially at night, and don't venture into public parks at night unless a concert or other similar event is attracting crowds. Keep your money and valuables in a safe place, and always lock your hotel door.

Smoking In 2005, Minneapolis put a citywide smoking ban into effect, making bars and restaurants smoke-free, though establishments may allow patrons to smoke in outdoor areas of the premises. The next year, St. Paul also imposed a smoking ban in all public places.

Taxes St. Paul's lodging tax is 3%, or 6% for establishments with 50 or more guest rooms, which is in addition to the 6.5% state sales tax and the 1/2-cent St. Paul sales tax, which also applies to lodging. In Minneapolis, the lodging tax is 3 % and applies to lodging accommodations with more than 50 guest rooms; this is in addition to the 6.5% state sales tax, 0.15% Hennepin County sales tax, 0.5% Minneapolis sales tax, and the 3% Minneapolis entertainment tax. Long story short, hotel taxes in Minneapolis come to 13%.

In the U.S., there is no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city has the right to levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks, airline tickets, and so on.

To Make International Calls To dial international numbers, dial 011, then the country code, then the phone number. The telephone system in the U.S. is run by private corporations, so rates, especially for long-distance service and operator-assisted calls, can vary widely. Generally, hotel surcharges on long-distance and local calls are remarkably expensive, so you're usually better off using a public pay telephone or a cell phone if you have one with you. Many groceries and convenience stores sell prepaid calling cards; this can be the least expensive way to call overseas.

Time Zone The Twin Cities, like Chicago and Dallas, are in the Central Time Zone, which puts them 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-6).

Tipping Gratuities are not usually included in rates, so in hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per piece of luggage and the housekeeping staff $1per person per day (more if you've left a mess). Tip the doorman or concierge if he or she has provided you with a service such as calling a cab or obtaining hard-to-get tickets. Tip the parking attendant 15% of the parking rate. Cab drivers should get at least 15% of the fare. In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip wait staff 15% to 20% of the check, bartenders 10% to 15%, and checkroom attendants $1 per garment. Skycaps at airports generally get at least $1 per bag, while hairdressers expect 15% to 20%.

Water Water here is considered safe to drink.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.