What I expected: People said Athens was hot and noisy, stinking with pollution -- but a necessary stop before hitting the Greek islands.

What we found: Eyes stinging from the smog, we arrived at our modest hotel in the Plaka, three pouting kids -- the boys, 13 and 15, a girl, 14 -- and I. Our rooms were closet-like. The air conditioners wouldn't work without a cord from the desk. "No cords," said the desk guy, shrugging.

Next morning at 7, I dug the kids out of bed. Whining, they trudged to the Acropolis, beating the tour buses and the midday sun. Two out of three were impressed by the Parthenon.

Athens was having a major heat wave. We made many stops for water and sodas. Sitting at a sidewalk table, we called for service, gulped our drinks then waited forever for the bill. It took more than an hour to walk a few blocks through traffic-choked streets to watch guys in pleated white skirts changing the guard at the Presidential Palace. Cracked the kids up.

In the evening the Plaka came alive with laughing crowds, cheap tavernas and stands selling gyro sandwiches of roasted lamb shaved off a dripping slab. Full of gyros and gloating over wacky flea market bargains -- gas mask, fur rug and jewelry made from auto parts -- my guys perked up. But Athens was over for us. Shucking the crowded city we turned our faces to the wine-dark sea, headed for Mykonos, Crete and Santorini. We never went back.

Jean Shriver, Rancho Palos Verdes

New Orleans

What we expected: We were uncertain about New Orleans, imagining it to be hot, humid, dangerously crime-ridden and the French Quarter lined with strip clubs and crowded with drunks.

What I found: New Orleans was magical. The city loves to eat and party. We feasted at Commander's Palace, had muffuletta from Central Bakery,[cq? Not Central Market?] po' boy on Magazine, beignets at Cafe du Monde and a Creole dinner at Mother's.

Five o'clock at Bourbon Street and St. Peter, Cajun and zydeco music blared from a club on the corner. Just down the block, a rock 'n' roll band played, and people were dancing and cheering as if their party was eternal. Across the street electric blues poured from the open door of another bar. In Preservation Hall we were transported to the mid-1920s. Someone in the audience asked the musicians to play a song I don't think they knew. A horn player started with a melody. The drummer picked up the beat, the piano player, started tentatively on the keys, the bass player kept up a rhythm and soon the other horn players joined in with whatever they thought would work. It brought the house to its feet. The band high-fived one another, and we had witnessed jazz at its improvisational best.

Next day, our guide on the Cajun tour was almost impossible to understand, his accent was so thick. However, as I listened closely, his choice of words and phrasing sounded like poetry I could have set to music.

Patrick Powers, Anaheim Hills

Maui's Hana Highway

What I expected: I expected a difficult road.

What I found: It was worse than expected. It was the longest and most torturous waste of time: about a nine-hour drive round trip with very few stops. Booooorrrrinnnggg!

Talin Andersen

Temple City

Naples, Italy

What I expected: "See Naples and Die" is an expression that has been used for years to describe the beauty of the Bay of Naples. I had been to Naples several times before.

What I found: The crime and grime I saw during my recent trip astounded me. The young, attractive Russian room maid at the hotel where I was staying seemed to be flirting with me all the time. It appears she was actually flirting with my luggage, the contents of which were noticeably lighter after she had made up the room. As for the "security" wallet I had been carrying on my person, someone in Naples is the proud new owner of 30 British pounds (about $50) and 850 Israeli shekels (about $250). Some security wallet. I want a refund. Some beautiful city. I'll stick to Florence, Venice and Rome next time.

Richard Rebhun, Los Angeles

Cleveland

What I expected: A long-time friend moved to Cleveland and kept bugging me to visit. I figured she was the only reason to go there.

What I found: I finally relented and was pleasantly surprised. I discovered great restaurants, a revitalized downtown, an amazing public market, an "emerald necklace" of beautiful parks circling the city, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and more. I even went back a second time.

Chuck Zaremba, Oceanside

Cleveland: Another view

What I expected: I have to have a really good reason to go to the Midwest and this seemed like it would be worth it. I live in Seattle, where we have the Experience Music Project, but I felt compelled to visit.

What I found: I am never going to Ohio again unless the West Coast burns to the ground. After the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I had four days to "experience" Cleveland, which involved mosquito bites along Lake Erie, relatives talking about their trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and people asking me if I go to Starbucks every morning in the rain. It was more than I ever could've imagined, -- more uneventful, that is.

Nicholas O'Mahen, Seattle