Kansas City Jazz Still A Hot Ticket

April 5, 2010 at 8:30 am | Posted in culture and museums, Kansas, Missouri, music, United States | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Diana Lambdin Meyer

Jazz in the Blue Room at the Jazz Museum, Kansas CityJazz in Kansas City is not like jazz in New Orleans or in any other great American music city. It’s a little more bluesy, a little heavier on the keyboards and bass, not so bold with the brass. They call it “cool jazz” here, jazz that’s a little gentler on the spirit.

In case you didn’t know, Kansas City is where jazz grew up. After its birth in the Big Easy, the music migrated to KC and became a smart-aleck teenager, with attitude and a vision for the future. That’s what they say in the clubs, anyway. They also tell a good story about how it got here. Anybody who’s lived in this town for very long — and I’ve been here more than 25 years — has heard about Tom Pendergast. He was our Al Capone, our Bugsy Malone — our crime boss back when crime still paid (or maybe it’s just that America’s big-time crooks today are on Wall Street instead of the Mob).

Not a lot got in Tom Pendergast’s way. Certainly not a little thing like Prohibition, that “Noble Experiment” from 1920 to 1933, when alcohol consumption in the United States was illegal. Prohibition just wasn’t a big deal in Kansas City, so when the juke joints elsewhere shut down, when there was no more booze — an integral ingredient of a good night of jazz — the great musicians ended up here. Louis Armstrong. Charlie “Bird” Parker. Ella Fitzgerald. Jay McShann. Duke Ellington. Count Basie. That’s when the local music scene erupted. At one point, more than 200 juke joints operated 24 hours a day.

A Kansas City Jazz Tour
The city, in the heart of America’s Midwest, is bisected north and south by the Missouri River, and east and west by the Missouri/Kansas state line. Many popular attractions, such as the 18th and Vine Historic District, the high-end and high-rise Country Club Plaza, several museums, the former warehouse district that’s now the Crossroads Arts  District, are on the Missouri side of town. Funky little neighborhoods in between these major districts provide an alternative to the ever-expanding suburbs on the Kansas side.

The Blue Room, American Jazz Museum, Kansas CitySome 40 jazz clubs once thrived in the 18th and Vine neighborhood. Today, this district struggles to regain its vibrancy, but come the evening hours, especially on weekends, the vibe changes as music pours out onto the street from joints like the Blue Room, part of the American Jazz Museum. Opened in 1997 in conjunction with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (see below), the jazz museum tells the tale I just told, only in greater detail. It also allows you to become a part of the music — to sit in on keyboards in a jam session or choose the rhythm or chords of a particular piece via various listening stations and composition rooms. It’s a place where you come to understand jazz terminology and, in particular, the feel of Kansas City jazz.

During museum hours, the Blue Room (at top and left) is another exhibit, its walls, bar, and cocktail tables trimmed with old playbills and album covers. But at night, the entrance through the museum is closed, and access to the Blue Room opens from 18th Street. Considered one of Kansas City’s earthier jazz joints, it charges no admission Monday and Thursday nights, and on Friday and Saturday nights the cover is just US$10.*

Across the street is the historic Gem Theatre, where a number of music events are held, including the “Jammin’ at the Gem” jazz masters’ concert series. And just around the corner, the Mutual Musician’s Foundation, part union hall, rehearsal hall, and jazz joint, really gets hopping in the wee hours of the weekends. On Saturdays at midnight, it’s also the site of a live jazz radio show.

One of the edgier clubs in town is Jardine’s on Main Street near the Country Club Plaza; it’s a little louder, a little hipper than other jazz venues. Two of the classics (and my favorites) include the on West 8th Street and the nearby Phoenix Jazz ClubMajestic Restaurant over on Broadway. For an overview of who’s playing at these and other clubs, visit the Web site of the nonprofit group Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors.

Hotels From Hilton to Bargain
Many legends — Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra — have played the Drum Room at the recently renovated Hilton President Kansas City. This hotel is right in the center of everything, and rooms begin at $175.

A nice independent property is the Southmoreland Bed and Breakfast on Country Club Plaza, with 12 rooms named and decorated in honor of local historic figures (from about $130). Or if you’re really on a budget, try the Best Western Inn on Southwest Boulevard, where you’ll pay less than $75. That leaves you plenty of money for barbecue, steak, some Boulevard beer, and other soulful flavors of Kansas City.

More Kansas City Sights
Skyline & Union Station, Kansas City, MissouriThere’s plenty else worth coming to town for these days. A downtown redevelopment effort has created a sports arena and performing arts center to rival any in the U.S. The once-abandoned warehouses of the Crossroads Art District are now home to one of the largest First Friday art walks in the country, and the recently expanded Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art dazzles with its Chinese art, American Indian gallery, and Hallmark photo collection.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells of the time when baseball was a segregated sport, and how some of the game’s best players came up through the Negro Leagues. The College Basketball Experience, which isn’t really a museum, celebrates history, too. The men’s NCAA basketball tournament was founded in Kansas City, and 11 Final Fours have been held here.

Containing the most comprehensive collection of World War I artifacts in the world, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial honors veterans and General John Pershing, a Missouri native who was head of U.S. forces. Exhibits include uniforms, weapons, other gear, a bombed-out French farmhouse, and a hand-dug 90-foot trench. Finally, don’t miss the Arabia Steamboat Museum. In 1856 the grand Arabia riverboat hit a snag in the Missouri River and sank. The boat and its treasures are now displayed in the River Market area — on dry land.

*To convert this and other U.S. dollar amounts to other currencies, see Tripatini’s Currency Desk.

photos: 1-2 Bruce N. Meyer. 3 iStockphoto

Sleep With A Real New York City Character

March 15, 2010 at 8:02 am | Posted in lodging, New York State, United States | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

by Ed Wetschler

Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was no rocket scientist, yet even he understood that Manhattan’s historic Chelsea Hotel was both a damn good New York hotel deal and a major hangout for artists, famous eccentrics, musicians, writers, and other celebrities. The musician’s appreciation of this most excellent combination was rather abruptly interrupted in 1978, when his girlfriend was stabbed to death—with Sid’s knife. But not even that scandal could stop the Chelsea Hotel, for this grand old landmark continues to welcome artsy guests. Moreover, the Chelsea is just as welcoming to those of us who don’t play in rock bands or make art for a living.

Hotel Chelsea, Manhattan, New York CityThe building itself is a 12-story, red-faced edifice on a fairly unremarkable thoroughfare, West 23rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Erected in 1883-34, the Chelsea was not only the first building in New York City to achieve landmark status, but the tallest structure in Manhattan until 1899. Its façade is punctuated by a grid of balconies and fire escapes with curlicue grillwork, more New Orleans Ornate than New York Functional.

Artsiness & ¡Olé!

“We have about 250 rooms,” says concierge Brandon Rivard, “half of which are transient rooms”–that is, traditional hotel rooms. The other half are for guests on extended stays and more or less permanent residents. Long-term guests and residents have included Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, Arthur C. Clarke (he wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey here), Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Jane Fonda, Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers… you get the idea.

The lobby features 19th-century molding, comfy brown easy chairs, and a big marble fireplace, but what really gets your attention are the large paintings—all from artists who loved and/or still love the Chelsea. Look around: There’s a Sandro Chia, a Larry Rivers, a Roy Carruthers — and the hotel seems to have gotten some of their best stuff, too. Hanging from the ceiling is a pink, pleasantly plump, papier-mâché lady who smiles down from a trapeze. Turn left at the front desk, and you see more sculptures hanging from the ceiling, not to mention two bona fide, old-fashioned telephone booths. Exactly what Clark Kent needed.

But would straight-arrow Clark be comfortable here? After all, Leonard Cohen described the Chelsea quite accurately when he wrote, “I love hotels to which, at four a.m., you can bring along a midget, a bear and four ladies, drag them to your room, and no one cares about it at all.”

No matter; Superman’s mild alter-ego would be happy at the Chelsea, even if the hotel is better known for its not-so-mild egos. Stacy Smith, an upstate New Yorker on a brief visit to the city, admits, “We had appointments while we were here, so I never noticed that there were famous people and artists staying in the hotel.”

You’re not alone, Ms. Smith: Many of us are clueless about the names on the cover of People Magazine. Besides, there’s no bar in the hotel lobby where a rock star might hang out long enough to be recognized. There is, however, a très hip club in the basement, the Star Lounge Chelsea. And just west of the hotel entrance sits El Quijote restaurant, a 75-year-old and unapologetically old-style establishment that’s almost a Chelsea Hotel canteen. Maybe most guests back away from the $40 lobster, but they do like El Quijote’s long, deep bar after an afternoon cruising the local galleries.

Rooms With That Lived-In Feeling

The quarters upstairs show their age, but in a good way. Surprisingly large, many rooms boast cheerful floor-to-ceiling windows, ten- (or more) foot ceilings, rococo moldings, and in some rooms, fireplace mantels. The furniture’s a mix of old and new, but the rates are decidedly old-school; some weeks, you can get a double in this historic showplace for as little as $139 a night. One twist: Whereas most Manhattan hotels cost more on weekdays than on weekends, the Chelsea’s rates zag in the other direction.

Downstairs in the lobby, a visitor finds some of the guests buzzing about the Law & Order shoot that just wrapped up at the Chelsea. Bellman and do-it-all guy Pete Padilla, who’s worked at the hotel for 15 years, takes it in stride. “Things are very fluid in this place,” he explains cryptically.

One of the permanent residents walks in with her little dog, this being a fairly pet-friendly hotel. “Maggie, baby!” exclaims Padilla, getting down on his knees. The pooch jumps up on her friend and licks him, managing to plant a smacker on Padilla’s mouth. The kissee is not unhappy about that. Why shouldn’t a dog—or a human—act a little outré? This is, after all, the Chelsea Hotel.

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
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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
Tags: , , , , , ,

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 Sentimental 80’s Oldie from Hawaii Revived: “Waialua Sky”

January 30, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Posted in Hawaii, Pacific Islands, United States | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

by Tripatini staff

Founded in 1978, the Krush started out as an act performing at weddings and such, graduated to various Waikiki venues, and became something of a Hawaiian musical phenomenon, with a sweet mellow sound typified by one of their biggest hits, Waialua Sky. Fast-forward to three years ago, when Japanese-American singer-songwriter Rob Yamanoha, from Haleiwa, on Oahu’s north shore, releases his album Better, which helped him win in the “best adult contemporary” category at the 2008 Hawaii Music Awards. One of the album’s outstanding tracks was Yamanoha’s cover of this iconic classic, in which ukulele accompaniment and beautifully bucolic video images make the most of the nostalgic feel.

North Carolina Mountain High: Asheville’s Eternal Yet Evolving Appeal

January 21, 2010 at 10:31 am | Posted in North Carolina, United States | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Marcia R. Levin

When you’ve lived most of your life in flat South Florida as I have, even driving over a moderately steep bridge can get you going. But if you are really drawn to high spots, I’ve found fewer more absolutely exhilarating than the wonderful green mountains and wooded hills of western North Carolina, and that’s one reason I’m constantly drawn back.

There are plenty of reasons why Asheville and the surrounding country have been getting such attention of late as a destination and even a fine place to move to. Besides those rolling hills, they include a mild climate, inviting mountain resorts, historic sites, world-class golf, and a funky, well-respected arts colony. The region appeals to families, singles, seniors, outdoorsy types, and a variety of lodging and dining at all price points make it doable on just about any budget. Folks from the Southeast states account for most visitors, but every year they see more from New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, and beyond.

I first visited North Carolina as a camp counselor fresh out of college, and reveled in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains both then and a decade or so later when I returned with a husband and three young sons. The second time around, family-friendly resorts and attractions made it memorable for our crew. As the boys grew older, we sent them to camp here, and when we picked them up and dropped them off, we’d revisit popular attractions like Grandfather Mountain (now there’s a  famous mile-high swinging bridge); George and Edith Vanderbilt’s extravagant, Belle Époque Biltmore Estate; and the Penland School of Crafts, where I’d stock up on some amazing pottery.  We’d always have a ball at amusement parks like Tweetsie Railroad and loved the fact that the mountain air was refreshingly cool even in August.

On my last visit, this past summer, I spent several nights in some classic local inns. Grove Park Inn (doubles from $280), minutes away from downtown Asheville, has been popular with travelers since 1913, when it opened as a restaurant, then became a small seasonal hostelry; its illustrious guest list includes F. Scott Fitzgerald, Margaret Mitchell, Bela Bartok, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers,  Eleanor Roosevelt and various presidents (most recently Barack Obama).  Today Grove Park is open year round and sprawls, with 512 rooms, a $65 million, 18-hole golf course, and a battery of wonderful rockers stretched across the flagstone terrace out front. A half hour’s drive away in the Yancy County town of Burnsville (whose Mount Mitchell is claimed by locals to be the highest point in the eastern U.S.), I also spent a couple of days at lovely, posh, and much newer Mountain Air Lodge (from $200), with its gulp-inducing winding roads, outrageous views around every turn and beautiful private vacation homes in addition to the main lodge.

I also had a swell time in Banner Elk, a charmer of a town where golf clubs like Elk River and Hound’s Ear make it a duffer’s mecca (the former, popular with Americans from all over the country but especially from Florida, has as its centerpieces a Jack Nicklaus course and an equestrian center). The dining here is tops, too; I had a tasty dinner of mountain trout one night at lovely Jackelope’s, on the way up to Beech Mountain, and later enjoyed some mighty savory Spanish-style tapas at Duzda’s downtown. Lees-McRae College is chockablock with cultural offerings year-round – though you often need to book well ahead, especially during the warm season.

One of my favorite things to do in the Asheville area is the 80-year-old Penland School of Crafts, key to the lovely glasswork and pottery which have made the region famous.  Founded as an economic development project, Penland teaches crafts to more than 1,200 students a year, and its gallery sells work by area artists, students, and faculty; this last time around I was excited by the whimsically quirky pottery of Ronan Kyle Peterson from Chapel Hill and whimsical colored porcelain created and salt-fired by local Jane Peiser.

I even went back up Grandfather Mountain and eyed that swinging bridge, though I ultimately ckickened out of crossing. And I didn’t get back to the Biltmore Estate, unfortunately, which was too bad because I wanted to check out the Biltmore Winery — about quarter-century old and one of the most visited in the United States.

But no matter — I know I’ll be back here soon again. Because there’s just something about Asheville…

More information: www.ExploreAsheville.com.

photos: Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, Penland School of Crafts

Tripatini Surveys Hot Destinations for 2010

December 28, 2009 at 11:03 am | Posted in Africa, Asia, Barbados, British Columbia, Canada, Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Central America, Colombia, Croatia, cruising, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Florida, Honduras, Iceland, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macau, Mexico, Middle East, Montenegro, New Mexico, Panama, Rwanda, Slovenia, South Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Suriname, Turkey, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by David Paul Appell

It’s that time when the travel-hungry are scouring the media for word of the coming year’s “it” spots. We can play that game too, so, besides popular perennials, here are 29 we see looming larger on twenty-ten’s worldwide vaycaydar:

For Americans at least, tight times mean Florida will tempt folks sticking closer to home; better deals down south include  Fort Lauderdale and up north the Panhandle. The latter’s now marketed as the “Emerald Coast,” trying to softpedal the “Redneck Riviera” image; comparisons to Sardinia’s glam Costa Smeralda are laughable, but there are some fetching towns, inns, and some interesting attractions — but above all sugary beaches along a stretch including  Destin, Fort Walton, Apalachicola, St. Joe Beach, and Pensacola. Another hotspot due for a boost this year is Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is popping the corks for its 400th anniversary (and while you’re out here, add a couple of days to explore some cool nearby towns like Acoma Pueblo and Gallup.

The big story this year is inevitably the province of British Columbia, with cool cities Vancouver and Victoria, stunning coastal and mountain scenery, eco/adventure tourism, and swell snow sports. The reason is, of course, is the attention focused on Vancouver and ski resort Whistler Blackcomb, hosting this February’s Winter Olympics.

The so-called Maya Riviera, on the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean coast stretching southward from Cancun, continues evolving whether big luxury resorts, mass-market all-inclusives, exquisite small inns, or budget digs. Some also see a bump for Mexico City, whose pollution and security issues can be finessed with some common sense and which offers one of the world’s great urban experiences — and what other burg has not just a stunning Aztec pyramid complex (Teotihuacan) on its outskirts but several right in town — one smack in the middle of downtown?

This winter/spring, more ships come online and cruising is likely to stay strong, thanks to heavy discounting. Beyond the usual suspects, keep your eye on buttoned-down Barbados,  where some resorts and dining spots have been updating of late, and scenic St. Lucia, with luxury properties coming online fairly recently (Jade Mountain, The Landings) or refurbing (Cap Maison); there’s also a movement toward sustainable — and less pricey — town and country tourism. Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos also keeps adding fab resorts without sacrificing its limin’ vibe. Finally, could this be the year for Cuba, when the self-defeating, un-American, yet stubborn travel ban is dropped or relaxed for all U.S. citizens? Hold not thy breath, but anything’s possible, and if it happens, go — unsavory regime notwithstanding, it’s one of the world’s great travel and cultural experiences.

Eastern Europe has been on a major upswing ever since the Berlin Wall fell. But even 20 year later, some destinations are still growing or even just emerging. Examples of the former include Croatia and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And lately we’re hearing more about Croatia’s neighbors, Slovenia and Montenegro. Both serve up stunning mountains with eco/adventure, historic cities and towns, and Adriatic seacoast with fine beach resorts. And this year, Montenegro welcomes AmanResorts’ fancy-schmancy Sveti Stefan, on an island of medieval architecture. On the western side of things, Icelands a nice land, with its superb eco/adventure, cool capital Reykjavik, short flight time from Europe and New York City, and some of the most affordable prices in years, thanks to the recent economic meltdown.

In Central America, everybody’s jockeying to be “the next Costa Rica” — even El Salvador (who knew?). But watch Honduras; ’09 tourism plummeted due to its political crisis but should be back on track — and hungry — once the new elected government debuts in January. Highlights: Maya ruins, colonial towns, exceptional eco/adventure, world-class diving.  Panama, too, with great rainforest, beaches, one of the hemisphere’s loveliest colonial quarters (Panama City’s Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and barefoot Caribbean isles like Bocas del Toro and the San Blas, home to the autonomous Kuna Indians. In South America, Colombia‘s overall continuing security and economic progress will feed that diverse country’s tourism, especially to another colonial stunner, Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, and happening capital Bogotá (whose colonial quarter’s also nothing to estornudar at). Rising on the radar is the continent’s smallest and only Dutch-speaking country, Suriname, a multi-culti charmer with a cute, sleepy little capital and some of the hemisphere’s most unspoiled eco offerings.

With the steam let out of Dubai, look to UAE capital Abu Dhabi, also developing a-plenty yet without sacrificing traditional culture and flavor. On the Mediterranean, with political crisis at bay for now, Lebanon is still rockin’ the casbah — well, at least Beirut is, while the beach resorts, Roman ruins, and even wine country outside the capital provide a lower-key counterpoint. Up on Turkey‘s “Turquise Coast,” meanwhile, a resort town and region called Dalaman is currently hot, for example outstripping Spain’s Majorca as among the Brits; allures include beaches, soft adventure, nightlife, and historic/archaeological sites.

The tourism offerings in staid ol’ Singapore are getting something of a 2010 shot in the arm, with the elaborate, Vegas-style casino-resort Marina Bay Sands; the also elaborate Fullerton Heritage Complex crammed with shopping, dining, and lodging; and Sentosa Island’s Resorts World, with a Hard Rock Hotel and a Universal Studios theme park. Another “city-state” (now a semi-autonomous part of China) seeing some new action is Macau, where, again, it’s Vegas-style casinos that’ve been complementing the Portuguese colonial architecture and fueling a local boom. On a less glitzy, more laid-back note, since Sri Lanka ended its civil war last May, more travelers will be returning to its historic towns, Buddhist temples, and breathtaking beaches.

From Kruger Park to Cape Town to the winelands, South Africa is on the upswing again, thanks to interest generated by Hollywood hits like Invictus and District 9, and especially June’s soccer World Cup. Lower on the radar, the story of the year may well be the rebirth of safari tourism in Rwanda, 17 years after its genocide, and, believe it or not, Zimbabwe, despite still being a political and economic basket case.

Santa, Baby! The World’s Koolest Kris Kringle Korners

December 21, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Posted in Europe, Finland, Massachusetts, New York State, Ontario, Vermont | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by José Balido

In the spirit of the season, for all you moms and dads out there here’s a quick international round-up of several key theme parks built specifically around that jolly old elf and his crew. There are of course countless towns and cities (not to mention shopping malls) in various countries that toss up a little “Santa’s Village” for the kids during the Yuletide holidays, but these four in North America and one in Europe are dedicated theme parks that do their thing sometimes in winter, sometimes summer, occasionally both. Need I say that they tend to appeal more to families with smaller tykes?

Santa Claus’ Village in Rovaniemi, Finland
In operation since 1985 above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lappland — which is, after all, about as close to the real deal as you can reasonably get, complete with real reindeer —  this is the only one of the bunch open year-round (you fly up from Helsinki,). So what’s up here? Exhibits of Finnish and international Christmas traditions (plus stuff like crystal, coins and gemstones);  a snowmobile park;  an elf-infested post office for mailing letters to you-know-who;  sundry shops; a couple of eateries; sleigh rides; an ice bar (for mom and dad, of course) — and of course visits with Joulupukki (Santa) himself in his office and toy factory.

Santa’s Land in Vermont, USA
In the south Vermont town of Putney (just north of Brattleboro),  the ho-ho-ho’s get rolling on Memorial Day weekend in late May at this cute little spread — more than a half-century old but reasonably well-refreshed — offering  arcade games, shops (including, of course, plenty of candy), ” rides n slides,” and a petting zoo (whoa, check out Bill the camel!). In fall and winter hours switch to weekends only till December 20.

Santa’s Village in New Hampshire, USA
Yup, we’re in New England again — this time in the White Mountain town of Jefferson, in the southwestern corner of the Granite State. This one has a schedule similar to Vermont’s version but is a little more elaborate (and costs a bit more, too), with real reindeer, antique cars, a movie theater, some fairly elaborate rides (flume, ferris wheel); and several places to eat and shop.

Santa’s Village in Ontario, Canada
Located in the Muskoka River town of Bracebridge, about 2 1/2 hours north of Toronto, this amusement park bills itself as “Santa’s summer retreat,” with a shorter season than the ones above, open late June through mid-September  (though in December — this year it was the 19th — they have an “open house” complete with story time with dear old Mrs. Claus). Anyway,  attractions/amenities include a petting zoo (no reindeer, but “fallow deer” that can look a little like ’em if you squint); rides; a mini-water park; go-carts; mini-golf; laser tag; and a campground.

Santa’s Workshop in New York State, USA
The Hudson Valley’s fetching Adirondack Mountains — and specifically the slopes of Whiteface Mountain — is home to what calls itself the “forerunner of present-day theme parks in the United States” — marking its big 6-0 this year.  Top features besides a modest roster of rides include a live Nativity re-enactment, other shows put on by a costumed cast of characters called the Mother Goose Guild. storytelling, and “Tannenbaum the Talking Christmas Tree.” And shops — but of course!

Beyond Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Towns Rock

November 30, 2009 at 9:50 am | Posted in New Mexico | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Old New Mexico lives on in towns like Acoma Pueblo. © Karen Tina Harrison

by Karen Tina Harrison

New Mexico takes its nickname, the Roadrunner State, from its official bird. But it’s also true that straight, fast roads make the USA’s fifth-largest state pretty easy to run around in. I’ve visited more than 20 times in 13 years, and its legendary capital Santa Fe, an hour north of Albuquerque airport, hasn’t lost its allure, with its heady cultural brew of Spanish colonial, New Age, Native American, and Wild West. But I’m just as jazzed about exploring the many small towns and such that dot the Roadrunner State. These are a handful of my favorites, all doable as day trips or overnighters from Santa Fe.


A mini version of Santa Fe, with chile-spiced menus and galleries galore,  Taos is more laid-back; here, even trustafarians resemble ski bums. Pack your best Patagonia fleece vest for dinner invites and your best camera equipment for some spectacular scenery (try to catch the 800-foot-deep Rio Grande gorge zig-zagging beneath rainbow-anointed mountain peaks).

Highlights include a tour of millennium-old adobe Taos Pueblo and an envy-inducing browse through Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Southwestern jewelry and pottery at her eponymous museum (a New York heiress and Vogue editor, she moved to Taos but kept shopping). Vivid landscape paintings draw collectors to galleries along Kit Carson Road and in the neighboring hamlet of Arroyo Seco.

This is a hanging-out town where everyone stops to admire and applaud the guaranteed-vivid sunset à la Key West. Prime late-afternoon perches include kid-friendly Michael’s, where the chili is legend; Orlando’s, for traditional New Mexican fare, and Graham’s Grill for mod NM. For higher-octane refueling, consider a glass of NM-made Gruet bubbly or a chile-and-tequila Bloody Maria at the Anaconda Bar in the almost painfully tasteful El Monte Sagrado Resort. If you’re a gossip stringer, your pick is Taos Inn’s Adobe Bar, where local Julia Roberts is a regular (check the mezzanine).

More insider tips: take the “high road” from Santa Fe through the mountains to Taos, not the highway. And on your trip back, stop for a soak at the recently cleaned-up (yet still far from slick) “hippie hot springs,” Ojo Caliente.

Las Vegas

A gritty yet charming hamlet, Las Vegas was once as infamous for its outlaws as Dodge City and Tombstone, but in 1879 the new railroad brought more respectable types, including German-Jewish entrepreneurs. You can visit Montefiore Cemetery and vintage-1884 Congregation Montefiore, now the Newman Center of New Mexico Highlands University.

Dozens of landmarks from LV’s Wild West and railroad eras are mapped out in a walking-tour brochure from the visitor center at the still-used railroad depot or the Plaza Hotel, a handsome 1882 structure on Las Vegas’ central square — a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt’s — said to be haunted by the hindquarters-slapping ghost of hard-gambling owner Byron T. Mills.

Overlooking the Plaza are multi-dealer Plaza Antiques and Tapetes de Lana, a weaving co-op dedicated to preserving a centuries-old New Mexican craft. A Tapetes scatter rug or scarf, perhaps in the striped Rio Grande style, is as potent a New Mexican souvenir as a chile ristra wreath, but much easier to fly home with.

Bridge Street, adjacent to the Plaza, houses more antiques shops, a drugstore soda fountain, and an unintentionally fashionable Salvation Army store. Also worth prowling: Douglas Street for 1880s apartment houses and El Fidel Hotel; Railroad Avenue for Rough Riders Antiques and fabulous neon (look for the sign incorporating New Mexico’s sunburst design); and 8th Street for Craftsman bungalows.

Re eats, it may be easier to stop at the Plaza Hotel or El Fidel, but my choice is a dive called Kocina de Raphael (610 Legion Drive). Ask for directions, and be hungry — and bring a swimsuit and a social mood to the roadside hot springs about three miles north of town on Hot Springs Boulevard. You’re there when you see turreted Montezuma Castle, an 1882 Harvey House railroad hotel now part of United World College USA.


To get to the oft-overlooked but archetypally Western town of Gallup, zip an hour south on I-25 from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, then another two west on I-40. Hugging a neon-spangled strip of old Route 66, Gallup’s the commercial capital of the 225,000-strong, artisan-rich Navajo Nation, making it the mother lode of authentic Indian jewelry, pottery, rugs, fetishes, and kachina dolls, all sold for half to a quarter of  Santa Fe prices.

You’ll find these treasures in Gallup’s trading posts, which serve the Navajos as galleries, banks, pawn shops, and general stores. Time-honored examples include Ellis Tanner (ask to be escorted to the “wholesale room,” stuffed with unclaimed “dead pawn” turquoise-and-silver bracelets and earrings for under $75), and Richardson’s Pawn, a Route 66 landmark known for heirloom-worthy Navajo rugs, hand-loomed into captivating patterns like cross-laden “chief’s blankets” and geometric “eyedazzlers.”

Gallup’s choicest chow is found at Fratelli’s Pizza, where the pies are hand-thrown, and at Zen Steak & Sushi. Before heading back to Santa Fe, a pit stop at the exhilaratingly unrenovated El Rancho Hotel is a must (case the mezzanine for black-and-white glossies autographed by movie stars from Ronald Reagan to Jane Fonda, who holed up here while filming Westerns).

Acoma Pueblo, recently rebranded as “Sky City,” is a riveting detour en route to Gallup. This thousand-year-old tribal village dizzyingly set atop a towering stone mesa is billed as America’s oldest continually inhabited town; stop for a tour and the Haak’u Visitors Center, with a documentary, Indian “fry bread,” and a shop spotlighting Acoma’s celebrated pottery (sure to mesmerize you with its thunderbolt-like patterns).

Portland, Oregon: Fall Into the Great Outdoors

October 26, 2009 at 10:01 am | Posted in Oregon | Leave a comment

by Susan E. Frost

You may have heard that my hometown (and Oregon’s biggest city, with 500,000 people and 1.6 million in the metro area) has more than a whiff of cool about it these days. True enough, but what I like even more — and what clinches the deal for many visitors — is its scenery, greenery, and water everywhere, in fountains, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Fall foliage season is, to my taste, the most beautiful time to visit, though to yours it may be springtime, when our famous flowers are absolutely riotous. Yes, we do get 200 days of rain annually (FYI: you’re more likely to experience them November throught April).

For locals and tourists alike, Portland is all about the outdoors, from riverside jogging to garden-hopping. ©2009 Susan E. Frost

For locals and tourists alike, Portland is all about the outdoors, from jogging to garden-hopping. ©2009 Susan E. Frost

But what most draws folks here? Not grand monuments and museums (though we do have some pretty good ones, devoted to fine art, kids, science and industry, history, crafts, and, this being the Pacific Northwest, forestry).  More than anything, though, it’s that Portland is such a great place to hang out — experiencing the parks, gardens, festivals, and multi-culti neighborhoods with their hopping nightlife, foodie, brewpub, indie music, and gay scenes — along with the spectacular nature that surrounds us. (Keep in mind, too, that a visit here doesn’t have to be a budget buster.)

For starters, parks and gardens are everywhere. Downtown, the most popular is Tom McCall Waterfront Park, running along the west side of the Willamette River for over two miles (it’s a summer festival hotspot for the likes of the Dragon Boat Races and my favorite, the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival). In the West Hills above town, you can stroll roughly 100 of rose gardens at Washington Park with more than 8,000 roses, including some you’ve never seen before (did I mention that Portland’s dubbed the “City of Roses”?). I also love meditative walks through the serene and beautiful Japanese Garden (some say it’s the best of its kind in North America) and the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. Horticulture lovers will also want to check out the lovely Berry Botanic Garden, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, and Elk Rock Garden.

And it’s all fairly compact and easy to get around, whether on foot, bike, bus, light rail or streetcar (cheap, too — within a 340-block “Fareless Square,” everybody rides free, and MAX light rail and streetcar fares to other parts of town are very reasonable). Really, though, it’s two-wheeling that has pride of place — Portland’s one of America’s top-rated biking cities, and almost every street has a dedicated cycling lane. Some hotels offer loaners, or you can rent at shops like downtown’s Waterfront Bicycles (from $28 for a half-day; tours also available). Explore the views and paths on both sides of the Willamette, or if you’re up for a challenge, head up, up, up to Rocky Butte’s Joseph Wood Hill Park for stunning 360° views.

You’ll want to set aside time for a couple of day trips. It’s just 90 minutes by car out to the Oregon coast and an hour to majestic Mount Hood, while 45 minutes east on Interstate 84 and you’re in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, a geologic wonder of towering cliffs, stunning views and waterfalls including the 620-foot Multnomah Falls. Meander south through Washington and Yamhill counties and you’ll find yourself in some of America’s best wine country.

Eats and sleeps? Peruse myriad choices at all price points at TravelPortland.com and PortlandMonthlyMag.com. Let me just say that the past decade has wrought radical improvements. You’ll find all the main hotel chains here, of course, along with several great independents. One is a really cool “new” place right in the heart of downtown Portland: the Ace Hotel on SW Stark Street. Made famous by Gus Van Sant’s film Drugstore Cowboy, this dingy old thing has been completely re-vamped, with hand-painted murals in every room and record players in the suites. Shared-bath singles start at $95 per night and standard doubles at $140. For a delightful and affordable B&B experience in the historic Irvington district, the Blue Plum Inn starts at $94 a night.

The organic and seasonal produce movements, meanwhile, have revolutionized the dining scene. One of my faves is David Machado’s Lauro Mediterreanean Kitchen, a casual East Side bistro with an early-bird special between 5 and 6 p.m. daily, when the yummy cheeseburger, calamari, and daily pizza go for less than $10 (washed down with a glass of local Chardonnay or grenache for just $4). The streets in and around downtown have also become known for their more than 400 sidewalk food carts dispensing goodies of many lands around lunchtime, often for $7 or less per person. One of my favorites is Kevin Sandri’s Garden State Cart, in a lot at SE 13th and Lexington, whose Italian fare is better than some restaurants’ (Kevin’s Sicilian arrancini, breaded and lightly fried risotto rice balls stuffed with cheese or meat sauce, are a revelation).

You know, it can be easy for travel journalists to get jaded about their hometowns. But while roaming around working on my recent book of Portland photography, I uncovered so much more about mine, and I still continue to do so practically every week. And while many Americans may not think of us first, second, or even third when it comes to their next vacation destination, give us a whirl — you’ll be pleased indeed.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.