Basking in Palm Springs Sunshine — and History

March 1, 2010 at 11:40 am | Posted in California, culture and museums, festivals/celebrations, gay/lesbian travel, golf, history, lodging, resorts | Leave a comment
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by Emma Krasov

Twin Palms Frank Sinatra house Palm Springs CaliforniaCalifornia’s eternally sun-drenched desert resort is of course famous for a number of things, among them for being “the playground of the movie stars,” for its golf, its eponymous hot springs, its scorching summers, and its gay/lesbian resorts (even the current mayor plays on that particular team). All of which help make Palm Springs a tourism magnet —  its 48,000 population doubles in winter, while in July and August locals — mostly transplants from colder climes – have their oasis to themselves.

What I find particularly fetching is Palm Springs’ wealth of a special type of Americana – its distinctive mid-20th-century modern architecture. If that sort of thing floats your boat, you can explore it all with Robert Imber (below right), whose Palm Springs Modern Tours runs daily two-hour minivan tours (US$75* per person).

Robert Imber, Palm Springs Modern ToursIt all started, Robert explained to me, in the 1930s, when Hollywood contracts wouldn’t allow actors and actresses to venture farther than 200 miles (322 km) from Los Angeles. So a quaint, sun-drenched desert village with a serene mountain backdrop quickly evolved into a glam getaway for the likes of Gloria Swanson, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh.

You can get really up close and personal with the glamour epoch by staying at one of the first modern properties, the Movie Colony Hotel (below right; rooms from $99), with its clean lines and simple/practical layout (Jim Morrison famously jumped from his balcony into the swimming pool). The 16-room property was designed in 1935 by Swiss-born Albert Frey, whose lifelong mission was to reshape the face of the desert (today’s PS visitors center is in a futuristic onetime gas station designed by Frey, complete with hyperbolic paraboloid roof). Or how about the recently renovated, Spanish-Colonial-Revival Colony Palms Hotel (from $149), with its dense orange trees and azaleas, decadent poolside terrace bar, Moroccan-style spa, and décor of antique furniture, oriental rugs, and retro-style B/W photography?

Movie Colony Hotel, Palm Springs, CaliforniaYou can also stay or just stop by for a soak or a spin of the wheel at the Spa Resort Casino (from $184), built in 1963, its entrance and bathhouse by legendary architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison. The hot springs after which the town was named percolate directly into luxurious blue-tiled bathtubs, and its trademark “Taking of the Waters” treatment (from $40) is equally beloved of locals and visitors alike. Or rent Twin Palms, Sinatra’s old digs (top right), for just $2,600 a night.

On our group tour with Robert, he regaled us with accounts of how in the 1940s-50s John Lautner, a pioneer of “real architecture” (so called because of the use of new affordable materials) became enamored of concrete; how John Porter Clark strived to align the design of houses with that of automobiles; and how developers George and Robert Alexander left a legacy of 2,500 single-family homes whose designer Bill Krisel cleverly manipulated identical square floor plans to create diverse dwellings within the same style. If you can make it here in early December, more desert modern architecture is on display in an annual Walking Tour of the Inns, free to the public, and more popular every year. It usually starts at the Palm Springs Art Museum (home to quite the collection, including Moore, Remington, Tamayo, and Frankenthaler).

I learned quite a bit both about the springs, and about the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians who first discovered them, on another eye-opening excursion: one of the walking tours of Indian Canyons (from $11). Ranger Rocky Toyama leads groups on itineraries that range from a 90-minute Andreas Canyon loop to multi-hour hikes. Ancient artifacts found here date back at least two millennia, providing glimpses into the life of a well-structured hunter-gatherer society.

Another great thing to do in Palm Springs – especially in the scorching summer – is to take a ride ($16-$23) on the Aerial Tramway, soaring over the cliffs of Chino Canyon 8,516 feet (2,595 meters) up, where heat turns into celestial coolness. Designated a historic civil engineering landmark, it was built using helicopters back in the early 60s.

I should mention, too, that Palm Springs abounds with good restaurants, cafés, and cozy coffee shops, many concentrated in its 10-block downtown. A popular breakfast choice, Pinocchio in the Desert, serves humongous omelets, plate-size pancakes with all the trimmings, and generous mimosas, while lunch is always good at Jake’s Ready to Eat, with delightfully fresh salads and lick-your-fingers sandwiches. Come dinnertime, Copley’s Restaurant chef-owner Andrew Manion Copley turns out amazing Hawaiian ahi tacos, sweet and tangy roasted pumpkin ravioli, and tasty main courses using organic and sustainable ingredients. Meanwhile, Mindy Reed’s Zini Café Med serves the scrumptious Italian/Mediterranean likes of pappardelle with braised rabbit and smoked paprika, and couscous with sweet-sour lamb; Mindy’s international wine list is fabulous, and her staff versed in the vino.

Finally, for a relatively tiny town in the desert, there’s a surprising wealth of events going on year round. Modernism Week just finished up, and upcomers include the Festival of Native Film & Culture (March 10-14); Palm Springs Wild West Fest (March 12-14); Crossroads Old World Renaissance Festival (March 19-21); Dinah Shore Week (March 31-April 4); Coachella Valley Music Festival (April 16-18); Stagecoach Country Music Festival (April 24-15); and Elvis Honeymoon Weekend (May 1-2).

You’ll find Palm Springs a tonic, worth a trip even from afar; because among other things, even if you’re not a movie star, here it’s not hard to feel like one.

*at press time, €56 / £50 / CA$78 / AU$83 / NZ$143 / R572

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Michigan’s Mackinac Island: Americana to the Max

February 17, 2010 at 10:16 am | Posted in festivals/celebrations, history, Michigan, resorts | Leave a comment
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by Max Pesling

Mackinac Island, MichiganThe USA’s Midwesterners have long known that a swell strand doesn’t necessarily have to be on an ocean. After all, that’s what the half-dozen mighty Great Lakes — North America’s great freshwater inland seas — are for. And especially as of Memorial Day weekend (May 29-31), lots of them head up to this Lake Huron island on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, six hours by car north of Detroit. Just under four square miles (10 sq. km), Mackinac Island‘s resort pedigree stretches back to the 1880s, leaving it with a charming collection of Victorian architecture (for this reason the entire island’s on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places) and lots of horse-drawn carriages (thanks in part to a policy of no motor vehicles on-island). Mackinac (pronounced “MAK-i-naw,” by the way) also makes an engaging destination for overseas visitors in the market for a mix of historic Americana and outdoorsy pursuits like hiking, biking, fishing, boating, and swimming. Oh, and did I mention the festivals? They’re a big part of the island scene and its appeal, including the Lilac Festival (June 11-20 this year), the Music Festival (August 17-19), and perhaps the most famous of all, the Fudge Festival (August 21-22); you’ll want to book well ahead for these. Finally, while overnighting here can certainly be pricey — the top of the food chain, the Grand Hotel, starts at US$240 per night — you can find more moderate rates even at other lovely historic properties, such as Mission Point Resort (from $150) and Main Street Inn and Suites ($80).

A New Year’s Eve Blast From the Past: “Another Year” from Spain’s Mecano

December 31, 2009 at 10:00 am | Posted in Europe, festivals/celebrations, music, Spain | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

An oldie but goodie from one of the seminal Spanish pop groups of the 1980’s and 1990’s, newly reunited just this November. Two brothers, Nacho and José María Cano wrote and played the tunes and Ana Torroja sang ’em, and many were quirky doozies — I Can’t Get Up Today, This Isn’t a Serious Cemetery, I Crashed a Party, Stereosexual. This one, from the 1987 album Descanso dominical (Sunday Break) describes the annual New Year’s Eve revelry in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza — “sailors, soldiers, singles, marrieds, lovers, strollers, even the occasional confused priest / Amid shouts and whistles, Spaniards big and small for once do something at the same time.” But the video pulls in imagery from NYE throughout the world as well as movies and TV sources as varied as The Simpsons and the original Poseidon Adventure. Because nothing says “Happy New Year!” like a sinking ship.

At New Year’s, Scotland Goes Hog Wild For Hogmanay

December 29, 2009 at 10:16 am | Posted in festivals/celebrations, United Kingdom | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

Auld acquaintance, indeed — when it comes to public NYE bashes, there’s pretty much no acquaintance aulder than that of the Scots, and it all reaches its biggest and bashiest in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Here the partying starts on December 29 with a carnival, torchlight procession from Royal Mile to Carlton Hill, fireworks, and the burning of a repro Viking ship by lots of drunks in blond wigs (some of Hogmanay’s traditions go back to the Vikings); on New Year’s Eve up more than 100,000 revelers throng the city center for a street party, concerts, bonfires, and at midnight another burst of fireworks and the famous mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Other Scottish cities and towns have their own whimsical, sometimes bizarre twists: in South Queensferry, part of Greater Edinburgh, hundreds of people participate in the “Loony Dook,” rushing into the cold North Atlantic waters on January 1; in Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, NYE’s highlight is a parade with a few dozen guys swinging fireballs in wire mesh; in the town of Burghhead up on the north coast, it’s a burning barrel (though not till Jan. 11, the original date of Hogmanay). But no matter where in Scotland it’s celebrated, it goes without saying that many, many, many “cups of kindness yet” are involved. Happy 2010, everybody! More info: Hogmanay.net, EdinburghsHogmanay.com.

Back This Winter: The Biggest Carnival Blowout You’ve Never Heard of, in Barranquilla, Colombia

December 9, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Colombia, festivals/celebrations, South America | Leave a comment
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by José Balido


Just a little more than nine weeks to go till pre-Lenten Carnaval time, and if you’re thinking of a warm getaway to the biggest party in the Latin world, Rio de Janeiro’s is always a rip-roaring crowd-pleaser — but it’s also massively mobbed, pretty pricey, and these days, to say the least, just a wee bit overcommercialized. For a taste of this annual revelry that’s both more affordable and closer to its folkloric roots (so much so that it’s on UNESCO’s World Heritage list), consider the second-largest Carnaval (in 2010, February 13-16), bringing more than a half-million people to Barranquilla, just down the Caribbean coast from historic Cartagena. This city of 1.7 million isn’t much to see most of the year — despite some nice historic homes, a small museum of city history and Carnaval lore, and historic bar-cum-eatery La Cueva, onetime hangout of Colombian literary legend Gabriel García Márquez and his circle. But come February, normal life shuts down, partying erupts, and city authorities and private Carnaval societies come together to throw parades with floats and costumed characters both traditional (gold- or white-faced, African-derived congos) and contemporary (Hugo Chávez, Barack Obama, hot chicas in skimpy outfits); you’re likely to have corn flour flung and water guns squirted at you, but everybody takes it in good humor. More info: CarnavalDeBarranquilla.com, CarnavalDeBarranquilla.net.

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