Eleanor WilsonThe Russians have come to the Caribbean, and boy, are they noisy. No, not a bunch of former Soviet conventioneers. The latest thing on the island of St. Martin is Russian motorcycles. Ural Caribes has imported a small fleet of Ural motorcycles from Mother Russia. The bikes, which are touted as "straight from the '30s," feature sidecars and minuscule mufflers that ensure automobile drivers will hear them coming. Guests looking for a different and stylish way to get around the island can rent the bikes and explore independently or hire a driver, climb into the sidecar and light out for the territories. If the Russian machines live up to their reputation, maybe bringing along a mechanic would be a good idea, too.

Seller's market

Near the departure gate at the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (a couple of weeks prior to the arrival of Hurricane Mitch, thank goodness), Insider found the rest room locked. Locks have keys, but not, apparently, for those of us flying Taca. An embarrassed gate agent explained that the rest room belongs to Continental, whose staff lock up after Continental's flights leave, taking the keys with them. As one of our group observed, "Couldn't that be called unfair competition?"

The smoking condiment

Grand Hotel VittoriaIn times of war, hotels typically have been used to billet troops. Insider heard the story of one property that, during World War II, got stuck with more than an unpaid bill. When the Allies were wrapping up the war on the Western Front, there was a strong need for convalescent clinics. Allied commanders decided the Italian spa town of Montecatini-Terme -- a health mecca for more than a century -- could provide suitable R&R. So, for a time, the Grand Hotel Vittoria in the Tuscan town operated as a post-surgery facility. When the war ended, it went back into service as a hotel, and most folks forgot about the soldiers. That was until 1996. That year, workers digging in the front lawn uncovered a cache of unexploded hand grenades, and this forced the closure of an entire wing for a while. As Italian bomb experts went about their work, locals were left wondering about the source of the dilemma. Evidence soon came out that pointed to U.S. forces because, during the removal, authorities discovered a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

A street name desired

Insider rented a car at New Orleans Airport and soon found that driving around the Crescent City, even with a street map, can be frustrating. For one thing, many street signs face only one way. Incredibly, the backs of these signs are blank. Then there are many streets where the sign is missing at all four corners of an intersection. If that weren't enough, what looks like an easy, direct route on the map, from point A to point B, suddenly terminates when the two-way street being used becomes a one-way -- against you, of course. To boot, in some areas, parking costs 25 cents for 12 minutes, so visitors had better carry plenty of quarters. One solution is to leave the car parked at the hotel and hop on the St. Charles streetcar. Even if you do not know where it goes, it's a memorable ride. As for the driving, in the end, we just rode along with our window rolled down and didn't hesitate to ask locals directions. We have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

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