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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.

The announcement comes a few months after Southwest announced a similar deal with WestJet Airlines that will allow it to sell travel to Canada late next year.

Dallas-based Southwest offered no details of fares or flight schedules for the deal with Volaris, saying that would be worked out by early 2010.

Volaris was founded in 2006 and serves 23 cities in Mexico. It operates a new fleet of 18 Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft -- unlike Southwest's fleet, which is all Boeing 737s, and much older in average age.

Both the Volaris and WestJet deals are called code-sharing, in which airlines sell tickets on each other's flights and share the revenue.

Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman, said Volaris will do all the cross-border flying. That's similar to the agreement in which WestJet will handle flights to and from Canada, connecting to Southwest flights at U.S. airports served by both airlines.

Volaris plans to begin service to the U.S. next year, Harbin said.

Southwest began nearly 40 years ago with three planes and service only in Texas. It now carries more passengers than any other U.S. airline but doesn't offer international service either on its own or through a code-sharing partner.

For about a year, the airline has been beefing up its technology and reservations system to handle international service, with a plan to go first to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Code-sharing is considered a low-risk way for airlines to expand their networks without adding planes and employees.

But some industry insiders believe Southwest should operate its own planes on near-international routes to avoid splitting the revenue with a code-sharing partner.

"They can fly to Guadalajara or Punta Cana as well as anyone else," said Mike Boyd, an airline consultant in Colorado, referring to Mexico's second-biggest city and a resort in the Dominican Republic.

Southwest officials haven't ruled out doing international flying themselves, but they regard it as adding complexity -- and Southwest loves simplicity, from operating only one type of aircraft to offering only one snack, peanuts.

Richard Sweet, who leads a group at Southwest that is studying code-sharing possibilities, said in an interview last week that there are other advantages to teaming with a partner. He said allies provide important brand-name identification in the other country -- Canadians know WestJet but might not be familiar with Southwest.

Southwest still has not announced any plans for serving the Caribbean or Europe.

Southwest's first code-sharing deal was with ATA Airlines. It was limited to domestic flights, but it allowed Southwest to sell tickets on ATA planes to Hawaii until ATA went out of business in April.

Last month, AirTran Airways Chief Executive Bob Fornaro said he would like to discuss a code-sharing deal with Southwest, but Sweet said Southwest was unlikely to strike a new U.S.-only deal.

Southwest shares fell 6 cents to $11.23 in afternoon trading.

Appalachian Mountain Club offers winter getaways

BOSTON – The Appalachian Mountain Club is extending its new family weekend series through the winter with programs that range from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to animal-tracking and learning how to build a snow shelter.

There's even a holiday-oriented "Gingerbread Weekend" where families learn to build a gingerbread house in between winter walks and hikes with AMC guides.

The family programs are in addition to other cold-weather activities like a guided lodge-to-hut trip for families, and a five-night winter family adventure camp, both offered during the February school vacation weeks.

Programs are based at AMC lodges in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine. Rates vary, but for weekends, they start at $155 per person for adults and $85 per child with lodging and most meals included.

Details at http://www.outdoors.org/winterguide or call 603-466-2727.

AMC is also offering a new health and wellness weekend series that combines snowshoeing with activities such as yoga or Pilates. For those 50 and over, AMC sponsors five-night winter camps and other winter programs.

In addition, the organization is offering a two-night add-on to its three-night itinerary for a self-guided lodge-to-lodge cross-country ski tour in the Maine woods. The extra days offer the opportunity to explore more local trails around AMC lodges and mix in some snowshoeing.

Snowshoes are available for guests to borrow at AMC's New Hampshire lodges, and there is free use of L.L. Bean gear at Highland Lodge in the White Mountains.

NYC's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum reopensMon Nov 10, 2:14 pm ET

NEW YORK – The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum has reopened to the public after nearly two years of restoration.

Visitors returned to the World War II aircraft carrier after a ceremony Nov. 8 at its Manhattan pier.

The museum on the Hudson River underwent a 22-month, $120 million overhaul at a New Jersey drydock.

After WWII, the ship saw service in the Korean and Vietnam wars and was twice a recovery ship for NASA astronauts. Since 1982, it has become a popular tourist attraction, drawing 750,000 visitors yearly over the past decade.

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