It was a time before cellphones when I marched up to a pay phone in St. Mark's Square in Venice and inserted my prepaid card into the wrong slot. There was an unmistakable ripping sound, and the card was no more.
Ah, but that was then. While phone cards, bought overseas or from US providers before leaving, still provide good rates, many travelers have forsaken them for the convenience and the "cool" factor that cellphones provide. Here are some ways to phone home from far away:
Your own cellphone may work overseas, once your company enables international roaming. For example, T-Mobile charges nothing to set up qualifying phones for such use. A call from Spain to the United States would cost 99 cents a minute, a call from Russia $4.99 a minute.
However, not all phones can be used internationally. If yours falls into this category, your phone company may be able to rent you one, or there are alternatives:
Mobal Communications sells phones that work in more than 140 countries for $49 and ones that work in more than 160 nations (including the United States) for $99. The phone is yours for life and you pay only when you make a call, with no fees beyond the per-minute rate. Using the same examples as above, phoning the United States from Spain would be $1.95 a minute and Russia $8.95 . Members also get an entertaining monthly e-mail newsletter filled with travel tips such as "How to Get Cheap Flights" and "What to Do if You Flush Your Trousers Out of the Plane." Mobal also rents phones, but says that purchasing one is a better deal.
Visit mobalrental.com .
A Telestial GSM 900/1800 international cell phone starts at $99, while a smaller phone with more features begins at $179. SIM cards cost $17-$79, but Telestial says they pay for themselves within 30 minutes of use when comparing the costs with international roaming rates. With Telestial's $49 Passport SIM card, for instance, that call from Spain would cost 49 cents a minute. Using a $59 Explorer SIM card, a call from Russia would be 45 cents a minute. Both cards allow free incoming calls from the United States.
Visit telestial.com .
If you prefer a phone card, SpeedyPin.com has a comparison chart on its website (where, not surprisingly, phone cards are sold). A call from Spain to a land line in the contiguous United States would be 50 cents a minute with an AT&T Prepaid Calling Card and $1.23 a minute with an MCI World Traveler Card. Surprisingly, a call from Russia would be less: 22 cents a minute with MCI and 50 cents a minute with AT&T. Be aware, though, that the cards may not work with all phones, dialing can occasionally be complex, and hotels may hit you with a charge for using the card from your room phone. The same may be true for pay phones.
And then there is the call you make when you get home. Special free parking areas are cropping up at some airports, including JFK, Orlando , and San Francisco International, for people awaiting a cellphone call from a passenger they are picking up.
Bill Bell of Logan Airport Valet Parking writes, "Gee, maybe the smart people at Massport might be able to think of a cellphone lot in East Boston. Or is that too much to ask for customer service at Logan Airport?"
Bow-wow and all that
Harbor House Village on Nantucket has a new, stand-alone extension called Woof Hotel , where dogs and owners are more than welcome. The 12-room hotel features Woof Park, a fenced-in dog run. Frisbees and ID tags with hotel contact information are presented at check-in, and the rooms contain a basket of treats, a doggie beach towel, toys, food and water bowls, and a doggie bed. The hotel also has a doggie directory, listing Nantucket dog runs and activities. On Friday evenings from 6-8, June-September, guests can gather in Woof Park for a Yappy Hour consisting of treats for the canine and Cisco
Brewery's Hair of the Dog beer for humans. Rates begin at $180 a night for two humans and one dog.
Call 866-325-9300 or 508-228-1500 or visit harborhousevillage.com/reservations/woof.php .
Choo! Choo! Railpass.com
is selling a North American Rail Pass good for 30 consecutive days of rail travel on any Amtrak (US) or VIA Rail (Canada) train or route, or a combination of both. The peak-season cost is $999 for adults and $900 for children and seniors.
Boston in Paris
John Cunningham of Saugus, a former Globe newsman, found a touch of Boston on a recent trip to Paris. He writes: "We were walking along Rue Richer, not far from the Folies Bergere , one evening when we spotted the words 'Boston Bistro' on a sign for Le Bon Vieux Temps restaurant. We began chatting with the owner, Richard Mzid, and found out he had lived in Massachusetts and worked in various Boston restaurants, including the old Cafe Budapest. We went back two more times. He (and we) enjoyed chatting about Boston, including the Red Sox." Cunningham adds that the food was good and the atmosphere pleasant.
We, too, have come across restaurants and other places far from Massachusetts that have a Boston connection. Let us know if you have, too .
By the books
For many people, Paris and shopping go together. Maribeth Clemente has written extensively about just that. The second edition of "The Riches of Paris: A Shopping and Touring Guide" (St. Martin's Griffin , $19.95) updates where to shop, eat, and tour, including a guide to each of the city's districts, markets, and shopping arcades. Clemente has also written "The Chic Shopper's Guide to Paris" and "The Riches of France."
Georgina Campbell 's "Ireland: The Guide 2007 " (Epicure, $19.95) is a compendium of what she considers the best places to eat, drink, and stay on that magic isle. There are more than 150 new entries in this edition, and Campbell notes that establishments do not pay or advertise to be included. She is also the author of these books about Ireland: "Romantic Weddings and Honeymoons," "For Garden Lovers," "The Best of the Best," "For Gourmet Golfers," and "The Dublin Guide."
A Wine Country Passport, available free at all wineries along the Connecticut Wine Trail, could win you a trip far away . By having the passport stamped at at least one of the trail's 15 stops, you are entered in a drawing for three prizes. Last year, the lucky winners went to Dolce resorts in Canada, Germany, and California. This year's destinations will be announced soon. Even without a prize, the western Connecticut wine trail seems pleasant. One example: The Jerram Winery in the wooded Litchfield Hills offers sampling in the restored 1903 Arts & Crafts Creamery, which is also a contemporary art gallery.
For details call 800-663-1273 or visit litchfieldhills.com . To get a passport in advance, e-mail info@ litchfieldhills.com.
Who doesn't love penguins? The Westin Boston Waterfront is certainly a booster of those half-comical birds : Included in its Surf's Up package are a night's stay; four passes to the New England Aquarium, where penguins hang out; four tickets to "Surf's Up" the movie at the AMC Loews Boston Common 19 ; a complimentary penguin stuffed animal; a "Surfer Dude" breakfast; and valet parking. Rates begin at $349 a night, based on family occupancy. The offer is available through Aug. 15.
Call 617-532-4600 and ask for rate code SURF. The website is starwoodhotels.com/westin.
St. John for $27
Cinnamon Bay Campground is on the northern coast of St. John , US Virgin Islands, where you need neither a passport nor a "passport pending" form. The site provides a range of accommodations, beginning with 31 "bare sites," with space for one large tent or two smaller tents, for $27 a night. But there are also 40 screen-lined cottages and 55 pre-erected tents. The rates for those are $140 for a beachfront cottage, $125 for beach-view cottages, $110 for cottages, and $80 for tents. All accommodations are private, and less than a five-minute walk to Cinnamon Bay Beach.
Call 800-539-9998 or visit cinnamonbay.com.
Wine, food, and history
Cambridge-based Go Ahead Tours has a new 10-day excursion called A Taste of Tuscany and Umbria, which stresses both culture and cuisine. The price, which begins at $2,249 including air fare, includes guided tours of Florence; a visit to the Basilica di Santa Croce , where the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo are displayed; a private Tuscan cooking class; a guided tour of Siena; a visit to Romanesque Biumo , which houses art by Donatello and Pisano; wine tasting in San Gimignano , "the city of beautiful towers"; visits to vineyards and olive groves of the hilltop town of Montalcino , with Brunello wine tasting ; a stop in the hillside town of Cortona ; sightseeing in Perugia and a visit to one of its chocolate factories; and sightseeing in Orvieto , with a sampling of the region's vintage wines. The company has also inaugurated new excursions in Hawaii and Germany.
Call 888-GO-AHEAD (462-4323) or visit goaheadtours.com.
Did you know that out-of-state visitors to the original Macy's in New York can get an 11 percent discount coupon? That's one of many tips from Delta Air Lines
flight attendants and other employees at delta.com/siteseer
. Downloadable video "travelcasts" give you a preview of your destination, along with information and tidbits. The Boston travelcast, for instance, recommends Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe in the South End and gives this advice: "Don't attempt driving here." In addition to Boston and New York , the travelcasts cover Brussels, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Orlando, and Seoul.
When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.