Q Is it best to exchange our money here at our local bank or after we arrive in Italy?
A Actually, the best thing is to not exchange much actual cash at all. According to European travel expert and guidebook author Rick Steves, "There's no need to exchange your dollars for euros before leaving for Italy. Throughout Europe, cash machines are the best way for travelers to get local currency. Bring your debit card; if it has a Visa or MasterCard logo, it will work in almost any ATM machine. You'll pay fees, but less than you'd pay to exchange dollars for foreign currency at home or in Italy."
Another avid traveler agrees. Dennis Buster, the Star Tribune staffer who wrote last week's cover story on Venice, changes about $100 into euros before heading to Europe in case he needs cash upon landing, but otherwise gets his spending money at ATMs. (To see his story, go to www.startribune.com and search "Dennis Buster.")
WEB WATCHOverstock.com adds trips
The e-dumping ground for discounted consumer goodies is adding travel to its offerings. Last week, Overstock.com introduced Overstock Vacations. Users can expect to find 30 to 40 travel deals per viewing. Offerings include four nights in September at the Mamaison Hotel Riverside Prague for $291 per person double and two nights in August at the Hilton Boston Back Bay for $193. But are these good deals? A room at the Mamaison normally starts at $160 a night; the Hilton goes for $269. Be aware that Overstock also bases its rates on two travelers so double the listed deal.
OVERSEAS TRAVELHelp with securing visas
What do Brazil, China and India have in common? All require American travelers to get a visa. And they are not the only countries. Many tour operators obtain visas for their clients, but if you need to do it yourself, a visa expeditor can do the legwork for you. Expeditors charge a fee, commonly about $45 to $90, on top of the cost of the visa, but it's worth it. They also are good at getting rush visas. Some reputable visa expeditors include: Perry International, Chicago (www.perryvisa.com; 1-312-372-2703); Travisa, Washington, D.C. (www.travisa.com; 1-800-766-0608); and VisaHQ, Washington, D.C. (www.visahq.com; 1-800-345-6541).
DETROIT FREE PRESS
TRIP TIPA dark side of Paris
If the idea of visiting Paris' catacombs appeals, Sarah J. Wachter, an editor at the International Herald Tribune, offers some hints. About the catacombs -- a section of extensive underground tunnels that are the remains of Paris' stone mines -- Wachter wrote in an e-mail that you should be prepared to see "the bones of 6 million dead Parisians, dug up when the city became overcrowded, and the remains of mass graves, which were carted here and have since been artistically arranged." To get there, take the Metro to Denfert-Rochereau. The Catacombs of Paris are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Monday (catacombes-de-paris.fr).
NEW YORK TIMES
AIRLINESEU bans 250 air carriers
An updated report lists the 250 airlines that are blacklisted by the European Commission Mobility and Transport for failing to uphold the EU's safety standards. The carriers are banned from landing on European soil (www.startribune.com/a376). The countries with the largest number of perpetrators include Indonesia, Kazakhstan and the Philippines.
SIDEROADSCajun-style fun in Iowa
Get ready for two days of hot food and hot music at the 12th annual Taste Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco Fest May 28-29 in Amana, Iowa. Seafood gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya and more will be sold alongside traditional festival food. The crowd will be entertained by five Cajun and zydeco bands, each performing twice daily on the main stage. Musician jam sessions, dance lessons and cooking demonstrations will be held on the Heritage Stage. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. $2 for ages 6 to 12; $20 for adults (1-888-594-3903; www.cajunfest.net).
COLLEEN A. COLES