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Between the bombings, the SARS outbreak and bombings at the Australian embassy, this area of the world has been hit hard. Businesses and tourism suffered, but things seem to be looking up. New boutique and luxury hotels are opening in geographically challenging locations (on a cliff and in a jungle), and a new airline, Air Paradise International, emerged to serve Japan, Seoul and Australia.
With spring weather coming a little late this year, you still have time to prepare a trip to see the first bloom of spring flowers. All over the country, the National Parks are bulking up for heavy travel season.
Taking inflation into account, airfares are 12% lower than one year ago, believe it or not -- but getting from here to there is only part of the travel calculus now in the face of the dollar's declining value abroad. To demonstrate where you'll get the most bang for your buck, this monthly index compares the cost of common consumer goods around the world.
The Castle Road has been extended, from Mannheim on the west to Prague in the east, with the most important stops -- Heidelberg, Heilbronn, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nuremberg, Bayreuth and Karlovy Vary -- lying in between. All in all, it's about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of scenic touring, and, except for the peak months of July and August, far less crowded than the more popular Romantic Road.
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Reader's Voice
From Stella Cowan: "In response to this recent article about package deals to Hawaii: Beware of the low prices for deals such as the Pleasant Holidays deal to Maui that includes the Maui Islander hotel. It's an old, old hotel where the rooms and all need renovation, and they charge $5 per day to park your rental car. Only advantage is that it's within walking to Front St. along the ocean. Instead, opt to stay at a bed & breakfast nearby."
From jansails: "As long as you start off, 'Bonjour,' most French-speaking residents are quite helpful & will switch to English immediately. I would put my thumb & index finger up, a 1/4 inch apart & say, 'Je parle un peu Francais,' the admission I spoke little French (even though it was grammatically incorrect) worked when needing help. And repeating 'Merci beaucoup.' The French think we're rude when we do not acknowledge them -- just like it is here in the South. When you pass someone on the street, in a hallway, or come into a store, it's mannerly to say, 'Hello, how are you?,' even to total strangers."
From wardcleaver: "I'm very confused about rental car insurance. I don't own a car, so, of course, I don't have car insurance. I was under the impression that I could decline the CDW anyway, as long as I used my credit card for the rental car transaction. I thought that the credit card coverage became 'primary' in this situation. I'd appreciate it if someone in the insurance industry, with definite knowlege of the laws, could answer my question."
From nalcivar: "I've traveled without hotel reservations in other areas before; sometimes it works super-easy (e.g., Greece in Oct), other times it's a nightmare (e.g., Italy in Aug/Sept). Anyone know how difficult it would be to travel along the coast w/o hotel reservations in the first two weeks of May? Will it be easy to find hotel reservations and buses? Or should I just make all my reservations before I go (and perhaps lock myself into an itinerary that I end up not liking?"
From mgpeters: "I am trying to plan a trip to Thailand next January and was hoping that someone could tell me where to find the best airfare deals. Does anyone know of a good site to find cheap airfare from the US. Wholesale airfares?? And if so, what is a good price to pay from the US. I am Denver so I expect to pay a little more than I would from LAX or SFO but I was unsure of what a good price would be."

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