Polar Expedition

TRAVEL SMARTS

March 24, 2002

When you're a kid, the North Pole is a mythical place, home to elves and a jolly fat man. When you're a grown-up, it's just cold. But to the adventurous folks at TCS Expeditions, it's also a vacation destination.

The Seattle-based travel company offers a pricey "educational expedition" to the North Pole in July aboard a Russian icebreaker (above) that's able to cut through the polar ice cap and actually sail to the pole. The ship is equipped with a swimming pool, gym, two sightseeing helicopters and a lecture theater from which historians, naturalists and geologists will hold forth. A staff of 150 will serve a maximum of 98 guests.

The 15-day trip starts on an island in Norway where guests board the ship and head out across the Barents Sea toward the North Pole. Periodic shore visits to abandoned geological stations or ice caps are available. Possible wildlife sightings include polar bears, walruses and 30 species of birds. Fares begin at $18,950 and do not include airfare, which TCS says typically runs around $2,000.

For information, call 800-727-7477 or see www.tcs-expeditions.com.

-- Tricia Bishop

IT'S A SNAP: TIPS FOR BETTER PICTURES

Getting your vacation photos back from the developer can be a bittersweet experience: You love to relive the memories, but you're less than happy with your photography skills. Take a few pointers from the Society of American Travel Writers, many of whom are photographers as well as wordsmiths:

* Shoot early in the morning or late in the afternoon for added color and shadow. The light is too flat when the sun is overhead (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

* Be patient. Let the clouds pass or the truck move out of the frame before you shoot.

* Grab detail shots by getting as close to your subject as possible and filling the cam- era's frame with it. This is great for that perfect blackberry cluster you found or the crab sidling up the beach.

* Frame your photo with the environment -- palm trees, city buildings -- to give the full sense of where you are.

* Do things a little differently: Shoot the beach on a foggy day instead of sunny or try vertical shots instead of horizontal.

* Keep the sun at your back.

* If your camera has a full flash option, use it all the time; it will help eliminate shadows.

-- T.B.

Take a swing at the best

This month's T&L Golf magazine lists its picks for the best 100 courses offering rounds for under $100. No Maryland courses made the cut, but here are some in the region that T&L deemed worth the drive:

* Back Creek Golf Club, Middletown, Del. -- www.backcreekgc.com; 302-378-6499 ($62, includes cart; about 80 miles from Baltimore)

* Harmony Hill Golf Course, Colts Neck, N.J. -- www.monmouth countyparks.com / parks / hominy.html; 732-758-8383 ($62, $92 with cart; 160 miles)

* Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club, Leesburg, Va. -- www.raspberry falls.com; 703-779-2555 ($95, includes cart; 70 miles)

* Westfields Gold Club, Clifton, Va. -- www.westfieldsgolf.com; 703-631-3300 ($95, includes cart; 65 miles)

* Ravens Golf Club, Snowshoe, W.Va. -- www.snowshoemtn.com / golf / golf.html; 877-441-4386 ($85, includes cart; 290 miles) -- T.B.

Places of merit in Europe

The best thing about the two new Europe's Wonderful Little Hotels and Inns guides -- one for continental Europe and one for Great Britain and Ireland (Steer Forth Press; $22.95) -- is how they were put together.

Too often, the places featured in guidebooks are there not necessarily because they're worthy, but because they paid a fee to be included (sometimes the book's authors haven't even been to the places they recommend). But the 2002 Little Hotels and Inns handbooks list only accommodations recommended by readers and subsequently inspected (anonymously) by independent examiners. The authors accept no freebies, payment or advertising, and no hotels or inns are charged a penny.

Buy the books online at Amazon.com for $16 each. -- T.B.

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