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Charleston, S.C., took the No. 2 spot away from New York on the list of best U.S. cities to visit from Conde Nast Traveler magazine's Readers' Choice Awards. Tops on the best cities list was San Francisco, while the Big Apple was third.

The awards are based on the results of the Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Survey, in which 32,633 readers voted. Winners are listed in the magazine's November issue and online at

In Europe, Italy was a big winner with Florence and Rome in the top two spots for best cities, followed by a third-place tie between Venice and Salzburg, Austria. In the Caribbean/Atlantic, Bermuda was named best island, followed by St. John and St. Barts.

Now you can charge at TKTS

The TKTS booth in New York's Times Square has reopened in its old location with a new policy of accepting credit cards.

The new booth, which sits on a traffic island at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue at 46th Street, is a fiberglass shell encased by an all-glass structure that sits under a glowing red glass staircase.

Hundreds of tourists and New Yorkers line up at the booth daily to buy same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows for up to half off the price.

A whale of an exhibit in D.C.

The "Whales Tohora" exhibit from New Zealand has opened at the National Geographic Museum in Washington. It features a nearly 60-foot sperm whale skeleton and a model of a blue whale's heart that visitors can crawl through. It will be on view in Washington through Jan. 18.

Rail travel made easier

Amtrak's USA Rail Pass is now available for purchase in the United States.

Until recently, the pass could only be bought by travelers who lived outside the country.

The passes are available for 15, 30 and 45 days of travel. The 15-day pass offers eight segments of travel for $389. The 30-day pass offers 12 segments of travel for $579. The 45-day pass offers 18 segments of travel for $749.

The USA Rail Pass is not valid for travel on Amtrak's Auto Train or Acela Express. Some other restrictions apply. Details at toll-free 1-800-872-7245 or

Plan now for Tour de France

The 96th Tour de France begins July 4 in Monaco and ends July 26 in Paris. And the big news is that seven-time winner Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement to compete again. The route hasn't been confirmed, but it is rumored that, in addition to Monaco and France, the race will visit Spain, Andorra and Switzerland.

Among the companies organizing weeklong tours are Backroads (toll-free 1-800-462-2848, and Thomson Bike Tours (toll-free 1-888-446-5502,

Be forewarned: These tours are not for the average leisure cyclist. Participants ride portions of the route in the mornings that the professional racers will ride later in the day. Backroads' trip will average 40 to 50 miles of alpine riding each day.

Costs haven't been set, but you can get an idea from last year's prices, $3,000 to $3,500 per person. The cost included accommodations, most meals and ground transportation, but not air fare.

Latitudes section honored

Latitudes was awarded a second place in the Best Travel Section competition last week at the annual conference of the Society of American Travel Writers in Houston.

The section competed against other newspapers in the 350,000 to 499,999 circulation category. The Globe and Mail of Toronto took top honors and the Miami Herald was third.

About Latitudes, the judges said, "Absolutely gorgeous, dripping with color and life. A pleasure to read, with originality in every feature, including the briefs. A treat for readers in the form of a comprehensive treatment of a destination weekly, this serves its audience well."

Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor, recently earned a second place in the annual Excellence-in-Feature-Writing competition from the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors. Keeler was honored for a collection of travel stories she wrote in 2007, including pieces on Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and the search for the best Maryland crab cakes.