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Area Code -- The telephone area code in Austin is 512.

Business Hours -- Banks are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm. Drive-up windows are open 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to noon on Saturday. Office hours are generally weekdays from 9am to 5pm. Shops tend to be open from 9 or 10am until 5:30 or 6pm Monday to Saturday, with shorter hours on Sunday. Most malls are open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 9pm, Sunday from noon to 6pm.

Doctors -- The Medical Exchange (tel. 512/458-1121) and Seton Hospital (tel. 512/324-4450) both have physician referral services.

Drugstores -- You'll find many Walgreens, CVS, and Randalls drugstores around the city; most H-E-B grocery stores also have pharmacies. Several Walgreens are open 24 hours. Have your zip code ready and call tel. 800/925-4733 to find the Walgreens branch nearest you.

Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are located in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are located in major U.S. cities, and most nations have a mission to the United Nations in New York City. If your country isn't listed below, call for directory information in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/555-1212), or log on to www.embassy.org/embassies.

The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/797-3000; www.austemb.org). There are consulates in New York, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; www.canadianembassy.org). Other Canadian consulates are in Buffalo (New York), Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.

The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/462-3939; www.irelandemb.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See their website for a complete listing.

The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzemb.org). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-7800; www.britainusa.com). Other British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Emergencies -- Call tel. 911 if you need the police, the fire department, or an ambulance.

Gasoline -- Petrol is known as gasoline (or simply "gas") in the United States, and petrol stations are known as both gas stations and service stations. Gasoline costs almost half as much here as it does in Europe (about $2.80 per gallon at press time), and taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons.

Hospitals -- Brackenridge, 601 E. 15th St. (tel. 512/324-7000); St. David's, 919 E. 32nd St., at I-35 (tel. 512/397-4240); and Seton Medical Center, 1201 W. 38th St. (tel. 512/324-1000), have good and convenient emergency-care facilities.

Hot Lines -- Crisis Hot Line (tel. 512/472-4357); Poison Center (tel. 800/764-7661); Domestic Violence Crisis Hot Line (tel. 512/928-9070); Sexual Assault Crisis Hot Line (tel. 512/440-7273).

Legal Aid -- If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Here the burden is on the state to prove a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested, a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. Call your embassy or consulate.

Libraries -- Downtown's Faulk Central Library, 800 Guadalupe St. (tel. 512/974-7400), and adjoining Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe St. (tel. 512/974-7480), are excellent information resources. To find the closest local branch, log on to www.ci.austin.tx.us/library.

Liquor Laws -- The legal drinking age in Texas is 21. Under-age drinkers can legally imbibe as long as they stay within sight of their legal-age parents or spouses, but they need to be prepared to show proof of the relationship. Open containers are prohibited in public and in vehicles. Liquor laws are strictly enforced; if you're concerned, check www.tabc.state.tx.us for the entire Texas alcoholic beverage code. Bars close at 2am.

Lost Property -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa's U.S. emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911 or 410/581-9994. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 or 636/722-7111. For other credit cards, call the toll-free number directory at tel. 800/555-1212.

If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).

Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 29¢ for a postcard and 44¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 98¢ (75¢ to Canada and 79¢ Mexico); a first-class postcard costs the same. For more information, go to www.usps.com and click on "Calculate Postage."

If you aren't sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you in your name, c/o General Delivery, at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel. 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver's license, passport, and so on). Most post offices will hold your mail for up to 1 month, and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.

Generally found at intersections, mailboxes are blue with a red-and-white stripe and carry the inscription U.S. MAIL. If your mail is addressed to a U.S. destination, don't forget to add the five-digit postal code (or zip code), after the two-letter abbreviation of the state to which the mail is addressed. This is essential for prompt delivery.

Newspapers & Magazines -- The daily Austin American-Statesman (www.austin360.com) is the only large-circulation, mainstream newspaper in town. The Austin Chronicle (www.auschron.com), a free alternative weekly, focuses on the arts, entertainment, and politics. Monday through Friday, the University of Texas publishes the surprisingly sophisticated Daily Texan (www.dailytexanonline.com) newspaper, covering everything from on-campus news to international events.

Police -- Call tel. 911 in an emergency. The non-emergency number for the Austin Police Department is tel. 311.

Post Office -- The city's main post office is located at 8225 Cross Park Dr. (tel. 512/342-1252); more convenient for visitors are the Capitol Station, 111 E. 17th St., in the LBJ Building; and the Downtown Station, 510 Guadalupe St. For information on other locations, phone tel. 800/275-8777.

Smoking -- Smoking is prohibited in all public buildings and common public areas (that includes hotel lobbies, museums, enclosed malls, and so on). It's also prohibited in enclosed bars or enclosed bar areas of restaurants. But it is permitted in open-air bar areas.

Taxes -- The tax on hotel rooms is 15%. Sales tax, added to restaurant bills as well as to other purchases, is 8.25%.

Taxis -- Call American Yellow Checker Cab (tel. 512/452-9999).

Time -- San Antonio and Austin (and all of the rest of Texas except for the El Paso area) are in the Central Time zone. The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). Alaska and Hawaii have their own zones. For example, noon in New York City (EST) is 11am in Chicago (CST), 10am in Denver (MST), 9am in Los Angeles (PST), 8am in Anchorage (AST), and 7am in Honolulu (HST).

Daylight saving time is in effect from 2am on the second Sunday in March through 2am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.

Tipping -- Tips are a very important part of certain workers' income, and gratuities are the standard way of showing appreciation for services provided. (Tipping is certainly not compulsory if the service is poor!) In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 per bag if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you've left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.

In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff 15% to 20% of the check, tip bartenders 10% to 15%, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.

As for other service personnel, tip cabdrivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 per bag if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairstylists and barbers 15% to 20%.

Transit Information -- Call Capital Metro Transit (tel. 800/474-1201, or 512/474-1200 from local pay phones; TTY 385-5872).

Useful Telephone Numbers -- Get the time and temperature by dialing tel. 512/476-7744.

Visitor Information -- The Austin Visitor Center (tel. 866/GO-AUSTIN [462-8784]) is at 209 E. Sixth St.

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.