Oh, those dreaded layovers. You have a few hours or longer between flights and find yourself wondering how much longer you can watch the repeating news reports or stare at those T-shirts in the souvenir shop. It so happens that at many airports you don't have to do either, because close by is a world of wonder: a National Wildlife Refuge. For the price of a cab or public transportation, you can view magnificent birds, animals, and flowers as you walk in the woods or wetlands. Here are some refuges near big airports:
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum is just a mile from Philadelphia International Airport. More than 280 species of birds can be found there, as can fox, deer, muskrat, turtles, fish, and frogs, along with a variety of wildflowers. Hiking trails range from three-quarters to 10 miles, and guided walks are held on weekends.
Call 215-365-3118 or visit heinz.fws.gov.
Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Md., is 30 minutes from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A large visitors center offers exhibits and views of a lake that is often full of waterfowl. There are five miles of walking trails, and half-tram tours are held on weekends from mid-March through early November.
Call 301-497-5763 or visit patuxent.fws.gov.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, a floodplain where bald eagles nest, herons and egrets wade, and mallards swim, is 2 miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. You can take a half-mile loop trail or hike up to 12 miles along a trail through floodplain forests, native prairies, and large lake marshes. An overlook at the visitors center provides views of the Minnesota River Valley and most habitats on the 12,500-acre refuge. There are additional walking trails throughout, and van tours are offered periodically in warmer months.
Call 952-854-5900 or visit fws.gov/midwest/MinnesotaValley.
The San Diego
Call 619-409-5900 or visit fws.gov/sandiegorefuges/Sweetwater.htm.
For information on all national refuges, visit fws.gov.
From Peg Ryan of Easton: "I used to purchase prepaid phone cards in the airport upon arrival in whatever country I am visiting, but have found this to be problematic since, as you mentioned, you can't always use them at hotels, it is sometimes inconvenient to find and use a pay phone, and as soon as you leave the country, the card is no longer good. I have left many dollars unused on expired cards.
"So, on a recent trip to Norway, I was delighted to see that Expedia offered a prepaid phone card for $15 that was supposed to be good almost anywhere in the world. Well, that may be true, but on my first attempt to use it I ran into the hotel problem -- I could not use the card in my hotel. Fortunately, I found an Internet cafe so I sent Expedia an e-mail explaining my problem and asking for assistance. I had to wait a day for the following response: 'Sorry, we can't help you via e-mail. You will have to call the following number . . .' Excuse me? I could not use the phone card so how was I supposed to call? . . .
"Here are the solutions I have finally come up with: When in an EU country I have discovered that 1 euro in a pay phone provides just enough time to call home, say hi, I'm fine. The weather is . . . Here is what I did today. . . . In other words, just enough time to check in and keep those at home from worrying. Won't do for long conversations, but for my purposes it is fine. For more in-depth discussions (and in non-EU countries), Internet cafes are everywhere. I just use e-mail. You can't get instant answers, but you can send your travel-log home. And everyone there can rest assured that I'm fine and having a good time."
From Bill Bell of Logan Valet and Fly, who advocates an official cell lot at Logan Airport for people waiting to pick up arriving passengers: "There is an unofficial lot that some people use in the old Honey Dew Donut lot on McClellan Highway in East Boston. The store has been closed since last October. Drivers in the know, including myself, pull in there and wait for a call from an arriving passenger at Logan. It's only five minutes away from the airport."
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.