Expert Travel Reviews

Visiting America’s Most Endangered Places

April 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Here’s an avant-garde idea for a vacation: travel the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the “11 Most Endangered Historic Places.” According to The New York Times, it takes more than perilous looks to make the list. Instead, “the trust selects what it considers important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of being destroyed or irreparably damaged,” Robin Pogrebin writes. This year’s list includes a special emphasis on the threat to Modernist buildings. In alphabetical order, this year’s most endangered historic places are:

  • Ames Shovel Shops, Easton, MA
  • Cast-Iron Architecture of Galveston, TX
  • Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
  • Dorchester Academy, Midway, GA
  • Human Services Center, Yankton, SD
  • Lāna‘i City, HI
  • The Manhattan Project’s Enola Gay Hangar, Wendover Airfield, UT
  • Memorial Bridge, Portsmouth, N.H. to Kittery, ME
  • Miami Marine Stadium, Virginia Key, FL
  • Mount Taylor, near Grants, NM
  • Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL

The slim good news for these sites is that since development has slowed, they face less threat of demolition for new construction. And the trust has a good track record of protecting the buildings that it names to the list. In 22 years, only six of the 211 designated sites have been torn down. Still, it’s worth visiting these places today because as the recession deepens, they might not be there tomorrow.

For more about the list, visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Hot Spots: Dublin, Ireland

April 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s more than just a robust literary underpinning to Dublin, Ireland, although the city’s history of letters is unavoidable. The erstwhile hometown to James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, and many other major writers brims with a youthful vim (an estimated 50% or more of the city’s denizens are less than 25 years of age) that belies the solid architectural appearance. Neatly bisected by the River Liffey, Dublin offers ample sightseeing opportunity via foot. For the traveler on a tight budget, Dublin’s many free attractions leave extra funds for a pint or five after a long day of tourism, but for those with a little extra gravy, the Dublin Pass widens the range of attractions while keeping funds in check.

What is there to do in Dublin? What isn’t there to do in Dublin?

  • Tour Malahide Castle. This 824-year-old castle, the home of the Talbot family for almost eight centuries, is technically is the seaside town of Malahide. But just a short jaunt from Dublin, Malahide, with its 260 verdant acres, specters of former inhabitants, one of the world’s most magnificent dollhouses, and collection of handmade models of Irish trains, is worth a visit.

  • Relive 18th-century incarceration at Kilmainham Gaol, a prison-turned-museum that for more than 140 years housed Irish rebellion leaders, women, and children in cold, dark conditions.

  • Think reverent thoughts at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest church in Ireland (of which Swift was dean between 1713 and 1745), which houses one of the country’s largest organs with more than 4,000 pipes.

  • Slake your thirst at the Old Jameson Distillery. A tour of the facility wends through the evolution of Jameson Irish Whiskey and finishes with a complimentary Jameson signature drink.

  • Steep in Irish history at Dublin Castle. Built in the 13th century on a former Viking settlement, the castle is now a location for state receptions, presidential inaugurations, and more.

  • Half an hour south of Dublin, Dalkey Castle & Heritage Centre brings Irish medieval life into the present day through live performances, guided tours, and annual Ulysses-themed Bloomsday celebrations.

  • Swing a club at one of the city’s many golf courses. Although golf actually originated in Scotland, Ireland offers many world-class courses; Elmgreen Golf Centre is a favorite of Dubliners.

  • Revel in the Irish literary tradition at the Dublin Writers Museum, which features books, letters, portraits, and personal items from Dublin’s literary celebs.

  • Writers may be at the forefront of Irish culture, but the visual arts are alive and well at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the country’s top national institution for modern and contemporary art from Irish artists, as well as world-renowned artists from all over.

  • The James Joyce Centre bills itself as an institution “dedicated to promoting an understanding of the life and works of James Joyce.” Don’t worry: nobody else got Finnegan’s Wake, either.

  • After you’ve had your fill of Joycean epiphanies, fall in love all over again with Dublin’s native beverage, Guinness, at the Guinness Storehouse.

  • Sample Georgian Dublin at Number Twenty Nine, the city’s Georgian house museum, and see what life was like in Dublin between 1790 and 1820.

  • Face your fear of the dark at The Bram Stoker Dracula Experience, “a uniquely different, most interesting, brilliantly, entertaining, interactive, educational and very scary adventure based on the life of Bram Stoker his great vampire creation (Dracula) and horror in general.”

  • View an immaculate example of Neo-Classical architecture at the Casino at Marino, built in 1775. This small building was designed by Scottish architect Sir William Chambers for the 1st Earl of Charlemont, James Caulfield.

  • Visit Trinity College, home of the Old Library and the Book of Kells, a centuries-old manuscript written on vellum that contains illuminated Latin text of the Gospels.

  • Lip a pint at the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub and purportedly Robin Hood’s establishment of choice.

  • Nothing complements a frothy mug of beer like fried fish. Get your fish-and-chips fix at Leo Burdocks, where the prices are light but the lines are deep.

For more information about Dublin, including information on accommodations and getting around the city, visit the official website of Dublin Tourism. <-->

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

April 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

That’s the dilemma facing travelers who are trying to decide whether to book flights now, while prices are low, or wait until later in the summer travel season when fares may decrease further.  The New York Times reports, “In recent weeks, travelers have been able to find nonstop round-trip flights, including taxes and fees, for $477 from Chicago to Madrid for travel in April, $312 from Newark, N.J., to Dublin in May, and $482 from Washington to London in early June.” Sounds great, right? But what if ticket prices can still go lower, just like the housing market? And what if they don’t? Will travelers ruin their plans by playing wait-and-see? The old “book early for the best price” rule is no longer applicable, it seems.

The answer, of course, is that it depends. One travel agent told the Times that if your plans are very rigid and leave little room for flexibility, it may be best to book now and lock in the dates that you need rather than wait a few weeks and receive a better fare but lose the dates that are required.

When you plan to travel also makes a difference. Another agent said that the best bet for those looking toward Europe for May or early June is to book now; those traveling later in the summer may want to wait for special fares to come into effect.

There are also a number of sites that can compare fares over a long period of time to help you figure out when the best time to buy will be. Sites mentioned by the Times include the following:

Ultimately, though, as every traveler knows, it’s a crapshoot when it comes to purchasing tickets. If you find a better fare after you’ve booked a flight, don’t sweat it! And don’t let the specter of a better deal haunt the remainder of your trip!

United Airlines’ Controversial New Policy

April 20, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Last week, United Airlines introduced a controversial new policy that requires passengers who need more than one seat-belt extender and who cannot put their seat’s armrests down when seated to purchase an extra seat. If no empty seat is available on the flight, the passenger must wait for the next flight or forgo his or her travel plans with United. While United is not the only airline to enforce such a policy, it has come under fire from the Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR) for shelving its customer service standards in favor of profit and irresponsibly packing in passengers in coach too tightly.

Could the new rule do further damage to the flagging airline industry? A 2008 survey showed that airline customer satisfaction had reached its lowest level since 2001. Passengers cited problems with delayed and overbooked flights, lost baggage, and baggage-checking fees, to name only a few of the complaints. In that survey, United ranked as only the sixth-most satisfactory airline, well behind Southwest, American, Continental, Delta, and Northwest, respectively.

What do you think? Is United’s rule fair or fradulent?

La Parisian Vita, Courtesy of Doitinparis.com

April 15, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

For anyone who cut her hair into a semi-sloppy bob after seeing Amelie or wished Carrie would just stay in Paris with The Russian forever, a new site called Do it in Paris is just what the doctor ordered. Featuring Parisian fashion, tres chic Paris addresses, French recipes, and tips on what to see and where to eat, the site is a comprehensive guide for anyone planning a trip to Paris, as well as anyone who wants to take a mini-vacation in their head! Also handy is the Practical Guide, which provides information about landing in Paris, getting around the city, and daily life.  For a taste of the Parisian joie de vivre, visit www.doitinparis.com.

Find Accommodations for Less with iStopOver

April 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Love to travel but have limited funds? What if you had a friend in every city whom you could stay with for much less than the cost of renting a hotel room? The answers to both questions are cropping up in the form of sites like iStopOver.com, which caters to frugal travelers looking for hotel alternatives. The concept is sort of like a Craigslist for accommodations. Hosts list their house/apartment and guests can search for available rooms in their destination city. Often, the accommodations rival that of hotels but are offered at a much lower rate, and some do not charge the costly cancellation fees associated with hotel reservations.

The inevitable concern, of course, is whether the host will be some pervy neat-freak who has a conniption fit if you put your suitcase on the bed or a von Trapp-sized family whose 17 kids go through your stuff while you’re asleep. To allay some of these fears, the site gives you the ability to communicate with the host so that you can find out more about him or her before you make a reservation. Previous guests can also rate and leave comments about hosts.  If you’re uncomfortable with the host or the accommodation upon arrival, iStopOver will let you back out of your reservation and receive a full refund. Payments are handled through iStopOver (for a 9% service fee for hosts), so hassling over money is eliminated.

iStopOver is not the only site offering private accommodations for cost-savvy travelers. Related sites include:

If the recession is hampering your travel plans, consider using these sites instead.

Hot Spots: Adelaide, South Australia

April 8, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Flocked by parklands and vineyards and peppered with churches, Adelaide enjoys a slower pace of life than some of the other state capitals, calling up its German and English history (Adelaide is the only capital settled by English free settlers, though it was originally inhabited by the Kaurna people) while also edging towards a more cosmopolitan flair. Adelaide tends to get overshadowed by cities like Sydney and Melbourne, but it has many pleasures in store for lovers of wine, food, art, and coastal life.

Adelaide, with a population of 1.1 million, claims the distinction of having more restaurants per person than any other city in the country, as well as the distinction of producing about half of all Australian wine. For the epicure or just the foodie, this is a winning combination for a gastronomic vacation. Some of Australia’s finest restaurants such as the Grange and Petaluma’s Bridgewater Mill call Adelaide home, as does the National Wine Centre, which showcases Australia’s wine industry.Prominent varietals in the Adelaide region include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And for a quintessentially Adelaide experience, one can’t beat the Adelaide Central Market for the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city.

Art and culture lovers can bask in a number of attractions such as the beautiful Adelaide Botanic Gardens, the Art Gallery of South Australia,Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, and Adelaide Festival Centre, to name only a few. Or just stroll along North Terrace, called the city’s “culutural boulevard.” The influx of Asian immigrants after the Vietnam War and, more recently, African refugees, have added to the diverse cultural milieu about Adelaide. Perhaps owing to the heightened sense of multiculturalism, the city’s arts scene has also flourished in the past 30 years, engendering the Adelaide Festival of Arts and Fringe Festival, as well as the Adelaide Film Festival, Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and Adelaide Writers’ Week. Music acts that hail from Adelaide include The Audreys, Hilltop Hoods, I Killed the Prom Queen, and The Superjesus, among others.

For outdoor lovers or just anyone seeking recreation, the city’s many parklands provide a fresh-air arena for exercise, barbeques, and scenic strolls. The city’s Park Lands Trail Project a 24 kilometer trail encircling the city and is accessible to cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, and people in wheelchairs. A number of private and public rose gardens also make for good environmental sightseeing, particularly in spring and summer. If you don’t mind traveling on foot, walking is one of the best ways to see the city. The Adelaide City Council has created a number of free, self-guided walking tours that can be downloaded from the council’s website.

Amidst eating, drinking, and soaking up the sites of the city, don’t forget to spend some time at the coast, which extends from the Le Fevre Peninsula to Sellicks Beach and offers pristine beaches belted by blue waters for swimming, surfing, or just sunbathing. Glenelg is the most popular beach destination, dotted with shops and cafes, but it’s also worth dropping by Henley Beach, Semaphore, and Christies Beach for fun in the sun. Or visit Port Adelaide, the city’s marittime heart, for museums, dolphin-watching, markets, and more.

When should you go? South Australia’s Mediterranean climate makes almost any time a good time to visit Adelaide.

Pink-Dollar Travel Remains High Despite Recession

April 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

According to the Chicago Tribune, the recession has done little to curb the so-called “pink dollar”—the currency wielded by the nation’s gay and lesbian communities, who have refused to relinquish their travel plans, much to the delight of the nation’s travel industry. Now, hotel chains, destination cities, and airlines are all ramping up their efforts to woo pink dollars through gay-and-lesbian-targeted marketing programs.

Chasing the pink dollar can pay high dividends. In 2006, a U.S. Travel Association survey found that gay men spend an average of $800 per trip. Their straight counterparts, on the other hand, spend only about $540 per trip. The reason for the discrepancy has much to do with the “double income, no kids” effect that so many gay and lesbian couples enjoy, although adoption rates are on the rise.

The Tribune also says that travel is embedded into the cultural fabric of the gay and lesbian lifestyle. Cynthia Marquard, owner of Aqua Terra Travel in Chicago and a founding member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, added, “Gay culture likes to have a good time. And part of traveling is having a good time.”

With that in mind, here are the top 10 gay-friendly U.S. destinations. And, yes, it does make a difference. The U.S. Travel Association reports that 48% of gay men and 47% of lesbians are influenced by a destination’s gay friendliness when they make leisure travel choices.

1. San Francisco

2. Key West

3. New York City

4. Fire Island, N.Y.

5. Provincetown, Mass.

6. Los Angeles

7. Miami/South Beach
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8. Las Vegas

9. New Orleans

10. Palm Springs/Palm Desert, Calif.

12. Chicago

(Source: 2006 U.S. Travel Association Survey)

When the Most Private of Business Becomes Public

April 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

The newest design trend among luxury hotels is the exposed bathroom, reports The New York Times. From Los Angeles and London to China and India, bathrooms enclosed (barely) by transparent glass walls and bathrooms that are free-standing, open areas of hotel rooms are all the rage among designers and hoteliers. The arguments for these designs range from conserving space to adding luxury to opening up hotel rooms by removing walls and letting in natural light. Some proponents of the exposed bathroom have also argued that the design minimizes spatial confusion and allows guests to locate easily all areas of their hotel rooms. (I say you’d have to be from another planet to need help differentiating between the clothes closet and the water closet.) Of course, for couples there’s also the voyeuristic opportunities afforded by unabashed views. But in this age of over-sharing, is some private business better left private?

As you can imagine, most travelers find the exposed bathroom experience to be disconcerting at best and downright disgusting at worst. One traveler who was greeted by a toilet in open view at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, Florida, in 2005, called it the “design equivalent of ‘too much information.’” What do you think? Are exposed bathrooms sexy or scuzzy?

Tips for Traveling with Baby

April 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever flown in the same plane as a screaming baby, you know exactly what Sartre meant in No Exit by “hell is other people.” If you’re the parent of said baby, you’re more likely to believe that your formerly sweet child is Virgil reincarnated, leading you into some unnamed 10th circle of hell. Either way, it’s an unpleasant experience. Luckily, though, Jen Leo of the LA Times has compiled a few helpful tips to make the experience a little less hellish:

  • Bribe your seatmates into assistance, or at least a little tolerance. Starbucks gift cards work well, as do goodie bags containing ear plugs and sweet treats.

  • Nurse or bottle feed during takeoff and landing.

  • Be prepared. Extra diapers, extra clothes, blankets, plastic baggies, a thermometer, and Tylenol can all come in handy when you’re cruising at 30,000 feet with a sick baby, as does a snack for you.

  • Program the number of a pediatric advice nurse into your cell phone.

  • Bring distractions: toys, shiny objects, sedatives (kidding!), etc.

  • Cheapflights.com Chief Travel Officer Carl Schwartz added, “Ear pain relief!!! Ask the flight attendant for 2 plastic cups and paper towels soaked in hot water. Place the wet paper towels at the bottom of the cup and then cover your baby’s ears. This will create a vacuum that will help equalize the pressure in the ear. I felt odd doing it at first, but it really works.”

  • Don’t forget to have fun!

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