Monthly Archives: September 2013

Fall Into It.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

If summer’s about escapism then autumn is all about back to business. But for many, fall is the time of the year when a lot of us hightail it out of here.   The crowds are gone, the roads are clearer and we can have places more to ourselves. But what’s travel without a good book? More specifically, without a good book about travel?

Depending on the direction you’re headed, some travelers prefer total immersion. And as most travelers know, any good travel tale is not without its fair share of ups and downs.  With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for all you travel advisors and travelers to inspire travel reading, travel writing, but mostly…travel.

theoldwaysI like a guy who likes to walk so I’m looking forward to The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert McFarlane. Shortlisted for the 2013 Warwick prize for literature makes it another good reason to pick it up. A literature professor, McFarlane leads us along the paths of the British Isles in England and Scotland, where he meets people and learns the history of these places. Step by step, he experiences the meditative bonus of walking, the thinking that goes with it and shares how exploring a country on foot is one of the best ways to enjoy travel. For anyone who’s hooked on their Kindle app and can’t get away, or for travel advisors who want to check things out, you can use Google Earth to track his path and see what he saw as you read along. Pretty cool.

Collection-of-Sand-Essays-Pe“…the most important things in the world are the empty spaces,” writes Italo Calvino. In one way or another, the 38 essays that make up A Collection of Sand focus on Calvino’s visual experiences and how they inform travel. Around his pleasures and fascination of maps and books and how certain places, in this case Japan, Mexico and Iran led to contemplation on space and time and civilization. Beautiful writing.

 

robberofmemoriesSeems only fitting that since there’s a chill in the air that you should have something chilling in your hands, or on your iPad. In which case, The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Columbia may be right for you, especially if you’re heading in that direction. Michael Jacobs takes us with him on his adventure up Magdelena, a river that runs through the heart of Columbia where he charts its course geographically and emotionally. Like most first-world travelers who go it alone, he sheds himself of life’s modern comforts. His journey is challenging and dangerous but his tale, where South America is the central theme, serves up a different perspective altogether.

alexandriaEgypt might not be the first place you think of going to these days but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of what it once was. A long time ago, in a land far away, an old flame turned me on to The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and this masterpiece has stuck with me ever since. Made up of four small novels, it’s a lush and seductive tale of friends and lovers in Alexandria before WWI. Its central theme is love conveyed across the different viewpoints and experiences of the characters that make up these stories and whose common ground is the city.

BehindBeautifulForeversBehind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo. I suppose the title pretty much sums up it up but don’t let that get you down. Boo won numerous book awards for this story and any traveler worth their salt knows that the closer to the bone you get to living in a country, the sweeter the meat. A journalist for the New Yorker, Boo takes us into the slum of Annawadi and its underworld of characters that make up the citizens who do what they can to make a life for themselves and their families who live on the other side of life in the shadows of shiny corporate hotels.

urbancircusAnother glimpse into the lives of others, The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico’s Malabaristas by Catriona Rainsford takes you on a wild and wacky ride. Rainsford joined a group of young, itinerant street performers on a two-year journey across the country where she learned to live hand-to-mouth with them. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, this true story will give you a chance to see beyond the tourist zones and into the everyday lives, genuineness and character of Mexicans.

If you’re into adventure travel, or have customers who live for it, then this gripping and heart-stopping story is the perfect companion. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko is the harrowing tale of three guides who ride the Colorado River through the heart of the Canyon.  Check it out:

There’s loads of stuff out there. Are you reading any good travel stories these days, fiction or otherwise? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

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Renovating NYC with Oyster Week: Mark Your Calendars!

My fellow blogger Renovating NYC did a great job of highlighting two great happenings in the city over this week. If you love oysters or architecture–or both–stop by one of these events.

Renovating NYC

Next week looks to be very busy. Its that time of year. The weather is great, the kids are back to school, no major holidays, and events that have been in the works for the last 12 months are going off. Starting this Friday is New York’s 2nd Annual Oyster Week (more like a week & a half!), going on until September 29th.

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The series of events celebrate the oyster’s role in the history, culture, cuisine, economy and ecology in and around New York City.  Lectures, wine and beer pairings, dinner specials, festivals, and other gatherings based on this ‘benevolent bi-valve’ will be happening throughout the week. Check out their events calendar here. I hope to see you at one of the events!

TheLadyandOysters1

Later in the week, another series of events, also in its second year, will begin. A Modern Interior Design Week, if you will. The second annual CITY…

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Howl or Stare, It’s The Time of the Season.

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Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

Full tilt at the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan.

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on another part of the world.
–Mary Ann Radmacher Hershey

Sunrise. Sunset. These two daily occurrences loom large for travelers no matter their budget. Wherever you may go, these natural—and free—gifts often feature in photos as the main event or as a backdrop to our travel experiences. Depending on the destination, travelers often set their day by that bright and brilliant starburst but there’s another player with a different kind of pull. The moon.

Some travelers plan their trips around this great big ball in the sky. You know who you are. It might seem nutty but knowing when the moon is full is a major bonus to your journey. While some folks might not be able to alter their travel plans based on the lunar calendar, travel advisors who keep this little gem in mind might just add a unique experience to a customer’s trip. Knowing this bit of info may earn you a bit of star status in their book.

Cruising by the light of the moon.  (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

Cruising by the light of the moon. (Photo credit: Carnival Sunshine.)

A full moon is beguiling, romantic, and hypnotic. Whether you’re on a beach or on the deck of a cruise ship, it lights up the ocean like a Hollywood movie set. Lakeside or hillside, a full moon is a major gift when you’re camping. Road trippers take advantage of the added value of its silvery light, and surfers love it. A full moon safari walk is magical. Yosemite under its light is otherworldly. Moonlight kayak tours are peaceful and meditative. And while I’ve never been, I hear the infamous Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan in Thailand is off the planetary chart. I’m sure there’s a lot more than howling going on there.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

An Arizona Harvest Moon.

Where are you or your customers this week? There’s a lot happening in the heavens right now. Especially if you’re outside the scope of city lights. Wherever you are, look up.

Talk about celestial seasonings, Venus and Saturn joined forces on Monday and will stick around for the week. They ride low after sunset but anyone with access to a telescope, whether you’re on a ship or in your backyard, will be able to glimpse Saturn’s rings. The star attraction, the full Harvest Moon peaks tonight. I stopped and stared at its near perfect formation last night on my way home, while the sun set behind me. Uranus will cozy up with the moon on Thursday, September 19. Otherwise known as the “green giant,” it’ll come so close that their combined wattage will equal 8 full moons side by side. Get out those binoculars, shoot for the moon and you’ll easily pick out that planet.  I’ve got no  idea what Pisces has to do with this picture but something’s fishy.

It'll be a starry, starry night this week.  (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

It’ll be a starry, starry night this week. (Image credit: Starry Night Software/ A.Fazekas.)

Lastly, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, I guess it’s time to say goodbye to the summer as autumn enters center stage on Sunday. Bittersweet, yet, but thankfully fall graces us with foliage rich with jewel tones and with more reasons to travel.

If you can work in the full moon on October 18… all the better.

Discovering Southern Values.

Ruffner Nature Center in Birmingham.  (Photo credit:  A. Headrick)

Ruffner Nature Center’s view in Birmingham. (Photo credit: A. Headrick)

Travelers lucky enough to fly around the globe are always on the hunt for new and different experiences and perspectives. For anyone without a lot of time to spare or who like quick getaways, there are plenty of cities and towns in the good old U.S.A. offering amazing food, cultural and natural attractions, or historical value. One of them is Birmingham, Alabama. That’s right, Birmingham, Alabama.

Why Birmingham? Because this week in September marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in this southern city and institutions are generating tourism by making civil rights relevant for a younger generation. That might sound like a strange thing for anyone who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, or for those of us who grew up in racially mixed areas exposed to a generation of African-Americans that had to fight for their rights. It seems crazy that there are Americans who aren’t fully aware of the events that took place during what is probably the most turbulent period in American history, but there are. This year, Birmingham has seen an uptick in visitors—whether through school outings, individual travelers, or families who want their children to understand the facts and details of one of this country’s darkest periods.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) opened in 1992 as an interpretive museum and research center.  BCRI is a cornerstone of this city and documents Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.  Its mission is to promote civil and human rights worldwide.  Many of their education programs are geared towards young people with a goal to start a fire in the heels of the future. Their outreach education program reaches 20,000 people in various community spaces, and they have traveling exhibitions. The city gets its fair share of tour and convention groups, and individual travelers, who come to soak up the history by visiting BCRI and other historical places like the 16th Street Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park.

Kelly Ingram Park draws visitors to Birmingham.

Kelly Ingram Park draws visitors to Birmingham. (Photo credit: CLUI.)

For anyone pulling a weekender, there’s entertainment, outdoor activities, and nightlife. Whether your palate is high-brow or low-brow, you’ll find down home cooking and finger-licking barbecue, as well as some of the most exceptional food in the country. Over the past few years a handful of the city’s chefs were recognized with the James Beard Award and in Food + Wine. Its natural beauty is discovered at the 67-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and five miles from the city is Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, a 1,000-acre preserve and urban forest with loads of hiking trails. State parks offer more opportunities to hike and bike year-round. Anyone into fishing will be happy to discover that Alabama is known as the “bass capital of the world.”

Birmingham shakes with history and It’s hard to go anywhere in the city without finding a place that’s significantly tied to the Civil Rights Movement. Its past is dark and complicated but the unity created by the brave, and mostly young, men and women during the Civil Rights Movement spurred a government to move this country forward.  It might not be a city that instantly comes to mind when you think about traveling in the U.S. but the historical and educational value, and southern hospitality,  you’ll find there is an excellent reason to visit.

It’s also one of the most affordable cities in the country.  If they don’t have it up their sleeve already, travel agents with the good habit of recommending destinations may want to add it to their list of places to visit in the U.S.

Friday Night Lights.

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

Ride it if you dare! (Photo by author.)

As summer winds down, New York City still has some good—and free—stuff left in its back pocket for visitors and locals. If you’re in any of the boroughs this week, you might want to make your way to Coney Island. This historic salty dog defender of American popular culture hosts one of my favorite summer treats every Friday night.

Sadly, tomorrow is the last one of the season but the forecast calls for a sunny day, which will make for a lingering sunset and a clear night. For anyone who wants to dig in and enjoy a full day of sun and sea, then suit up, pack a beach bag with a sweatshirt (you’ll need it later) reading materials, toys, whatever floats your boat, and take the D, F, N or Q Subway train to the West 8th Street-NY Aquarium or the Stillwell Avenue stations in Coney Island. Once you’re on the beach, set up camp close to the shoreline and suck it all in.

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot.  (Photo by author.)

An on old merman on the boardwalk with his poodle and his parrot. (Photo by author.)

Coney Island is one of the craziest places on the planet. It’s New Orleans meets Nice, but with lots of wackiness thrown in. It’s where old European women still rock bikinis in their 60’s, 70, 80s, and…seriously. Where Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans peddle homemade empanadas, tacos, and pastilles, and home boys weave around blankets like roving bartenders hawking Nutcrackers, a cocktail created in Harlem. Where you can swim until your heart’s content and not have to sit in traffic to get home because the subway system makes it so easy.

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

Old timers tango under a gazebo. (Photo by author.)

The culture of Coney is a sideshow unto itself. New Yorkers who hang at this beach and boardwalk on a regular basis are salt of the earth people. Some have come since they were kids, others since they came to this country. There’s something about Coney that puts a tattoo on your heart. Like your first love, it’ll never go away.

But let’s get back to Friday. Whether you get to enjoy a full day, arrive for a sunset swim, or hit the beach at twilight—it’s time to get comfy. Relax on your blanket, or walk the boardwalk, and enjoy the night sky as the sun fades out around the Parachute Jump, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone Roller Coaster and the rest of the rides in Luna Park. Then wait for the show to begin somewhere around 9:45pm, although they don’t stand on ceremony at Coney.

Greatest show on earth.  (Photo credit:  Steven Kelly.)

Greatest show on earth. (Photo credit: Steven Kelly.)

At this point, lots of sailboats have come in and bob close to shore. A dull shot followed by a long whistle will ring through the air, and at the same time you’ll feel a BOOM under your blanket as the first rocket sails into the night. From there lay back and enjoy one of the most incredible firework displays. The closer you get, the better.

Coney's smokin' on Friday summer nights.  (Photo credit:  Reid Dodson.)

Coney’s smokin’ on Friday summer nights. (Photo credit: Reid Dodson.)

The grand finale sends it all up in a blaze of glory. The breeze carries the smoky residue from all that dynamite, like a hundred octopus tentacles creeping slowly across the beach as it hangs it in the air. In unison the boats blow their horns, start their engines, and toot back out to sea.

Summer’s almost gone. Coney Island’s a playground for the world, go there and have a blast.