Inauguration: Tickets and hotels hard to come by

WASHINGTON – Tickets to balls and other events related to the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration will be hard to come by, but you can always join the crowds along the parade route, and Washington tourism officials say it's not impossible to find a place to stay.

Hundreds of thousands of people always gather along Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the procession from the Capitol to the White House after the swearing-in ceremony. You'll likely see marching bands and floats no matter where you stand, but you're not guaranteed a glimpse of the president and his family. Only bleacher seats require tickets.

The Monday holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls on Jan. 19, the day before the inauguration, which will also add to the crowds.

Be prepared for cold weather. According to Weather Underground's Trip Planner, since 1993, temperatures on Jan. 20 in Washington have run from an average low of 27 to an average high of 39. The temperature dipped below freezing in 11 of the past 16 years, and only once did it go as high as 60.

The official Washington tourism agency, Destination DC, advises that hotels do still have some rooms available, but they require a three to four-night minimum stay and prepayment. If you're trying to book online, entering information for a one- or two-night stay for Jan. 19-20 may not yield results. Destination DC offers online hotel booking at http://reservations.washington.org/953. On some Web sites like Craigslist, individuals are offering space in private apartments and homes.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies prints some 240,000 tickets for official events to be distributed for free through Senate and House offices to constituents, and through the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The official Web site http://inaugural.senate.gov/index.cfm advises that "members of the public interested in attending the Inaugural Ceremonies should contact their Member of Congress or U.S. Senators to request tickets." The committee site also states that "no Web site or other ticket outlet actually has inaugural swearing-in tickets to sell, regardless of what they may claim" and adds that tickets will not be distributed to Congressional offices until the week before the inauguration and will require in-person pick-up.

Fancy parties are a big part of the festivities, and the new president typically drops in on a few of them. Tickets for balls organized by state societies and other private organizations sell out fast, though you may find some tickets to these types of events being resold at higher prices online. The Hawaii State Society reported on its Web site that general tickets were already sold out to its island-themed inaugural ball. In 2001, President Bush and his wife attended the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots inaugural ball among others.

The theme of the 2009 inauguration, which is set by the official inaugural committee, is "A New Birth of Freedom," a phrase from the Gettysburg Address, in honor of the 2009 bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Victoria Isley, spokeswoman for Destination DC, says that if you can't make it to Washington for the inauguration or can't get tickets to any official ceremonies, you might consider coming back instead for one of the Lincoln Bicentennial events, such as a recreation of Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial, planned for Easter Sunday.

Various Web sites offer information about the inauguration. Destination DC has created a 2009 Presidential Inauguration event on Facebook that anyone with a Facebook account can join. TripAdvisor.com has a forum with all sorts of information. Expedia is also offering booking and advice at http://www.expedia.com/inauguration

3-D show revives gladiator battles in Colosseum

ROME – Ever wonder how a gladiator fight looked like from the front row of the Colosseum?

"Rewind Rome," a 3-D simulation presented in a theater a few steps from the ruined arena, will offer visitors the chance to experience the monuments and daily life of the ancient capital.

Virtual tourists will see the simulation on a giant screen and animated characters will guide them through the streets of Rome as they appeared in A.D. 310, with grandiose bas-reliefs on triumphal arches and less ambitious graffiti scrawled by vandals on buildings. The show opens to the public Nov. 20 and can be followed with earphones in eight languages.

The show is based on a simulation created as a scientific tool by experts at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Some of the reconstructed monuments include the Forum, ancient Rome's center of power, and the temple of Vesta, where visitors will spy on a secret rite dedicated to the pagan goddess.

While the setting is based on archaeological evidence, commercial developers jazzed up the simulation by adding characters such as the Emperor Maxentius, who governed Rome at the time, and a host of lions and gladiators battling to the death for a cheering crowd in the Colosseum.

Southwest plans to sell travel to Mexico

DALLAS – Southwest Airlines Co., looking to expand its U.S.-only service, said Monday it will sell tickets for travel to Mexico beginning in 2010 through a deal with Mexican partner Volaris.