What I found: From the moment we arrived in Germany, I found myself listening carefully to nuance, looking over my shoulder and, particularly in the beautiful forests, thinking about the many people who had hidden and died there. At the same time, I continued to meet people of all ages and despite language differences, was able to connect with them. I found them curious, interested, open-minded and just as devastated about Germany's past as we were. The forests, castles, rivers, architecture and parks were overwhelmingly beautiful in their serenity and grandeur. I fell in love with Germany. I'm convinced that the more people travel and have the opportunity to interact with others, the more appreciation, understanding and respect will be gained.
What I expected: I can't count the number of years my husband had been campaigning during our annual vacation planning session to go to Alaska. I had gone as a 14-year-old with my parents and had been less than impressed. British Columbia, which we had passed through on our way, was way prettier, I thought.
What I found: We started with an Amtrak train ride from San Diego all the way up the coast to Seattle. We then hopped on the ferry (part of the Alaska Marine Highway) for three days of cruising through the Inland Passage to southeast Alaska. We visited Haines and Juneau with visits to calving glaciers and Admiralty Island (home of a large concentration of grizzly bears).
We found a level of discomfort in the divide between the red and blue states we weren't quite prepared for. And the coastal towns along the Inside Passage have been turned into cruise ship destinations with badly rendered totem poles and souvenir shops selling Eskimo souvenirs and seal, beaver and deer fur coats. With up to five cruise ships in port at any one time, the population of the towns can swell by 15,000 people.
But nothing can substitute for being in Juneau when it was announced Sarah Palin would be the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party.
Diane Altieri, San Diego
What I expected: For years my husband has wanted to visit Berlin, because his grandmother had been born near there. So this summer, when planning a Baltic cruise, we also purchased a Eurail Pass to travel around Germany. One of the first stops was Berlin, which I wasn't too enthusiastic about, picturing dark, depressing areas of Eastern Germany. I was much more excited about going to Prague, Czech Republic, which was next on the itinerary.
What I found: We had reserved a room at the Westin Grand Berlin for two nights, which as it turned out, was in East Berlin. Imagine my surprise and his delight when Berlin turned out to be one of the best stops on our trip.
We loved every minute, with fine restaurants, warm, friendly people, easy transportation and great historical value. One of the most intriguing aspects of Berlin is the wonderful marriage of old, restored buildings with new, modern structures. Not only did we come to appreciate this bright, beautiful city, but extended our stay an additional night. Anyone who appreciates history or architecture certainly needs to have Berlin on their must-see list.
Conversely, Prague, which had been the most eagerly anticipated destination on our trip, turned out to be the most disappointing. From our arrival at a train station outside of the city with interesting taxi service into town, to the overwhelming crowds, constant worry about pickpockets, and extremely high prices at restaurants, this certainly wasn't the "Little Paris" we had looked forward to seeing.
Mary K. Dana, Huntington Beach
What I expected: We had planned another trip, but because of the economy, we compromised and decided to visit his relatives in South Florida. In August. Initially, I was unimpressed with the humidity, the random storms and the bunk beds we were sleeping on.
What I found: South Florida had much more to offer: We saw a shuttle launch, visited the Dalí museum and spent two days in magical, laid-back Key West. So magical, in fact, that we got engaged at the Hemingway House. South Florida went from a begrudging compromise to one of my favorite places in the world. In fact, we're even considering getting married in Key West, just maybe not in August.
Gwen Cassidy, Los Angeles