Tag Archives: Golden Gate Bridge

the IBIT TRAVEL DIGEST 3.26.2012

A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
© Radkol | Dreamstime.com

A new hotel reservation site has made its debut on the Web. It’s called Tingo, and its main calling card comes into play after you make your hotel reservation.

The folks at Tingo say they will keep an eye on your pre-paid reservation. If your room price drops after you’ve reserved it, Tingo will arrange a refund of the difference, automatically.

You can read more about Tingo in this msnbc.com story here.

In my next life, I might be an engineer, because I love bridges. Admiring them. Photographing them. Sailing under them. Or best of all, walking over them.

I still have fantasies about riding the elevator that runs up the inside of each of the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, with my trusty little Canon G12 camera in hand, to take pics from the very top.

That probably explains why I got such a kick out of Cristina Puscas’ list of 13 famous bridges that you can walk or climb. It’s on the BootsnAll Web site, which specializes in independent travel.

With this list as a guide, bridge-hopping can take you around the world.

The New York Times devotes its Sunday travel section this week to Asia, starting with a sizable story on India that features three possible itineraries based on time — one, two or three weeks.

The piece itself is informative enough, but some of the comments below it are just as insightful, especially those that suggest a possible bias on the part of travel writers toward northern India.

Finally, the folks at Air France are making a point of showing off one of their crews on a recent Flight 438, a Boeing 777 from Paris (CDG) to Mexico City (MEX).

Three pilots, 13 flight attendants. All women.

The airline put up its own video to mark the occasion.

I’m not sure how the macho Mexican male passengers on the flight reacted when they found out about the all-female flight crew, but I’ll bet the mujeres on board were diggin’ it.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:


from Gadling
When’s the best time to shop for your airfare? These guys say six weeks in advance.

from Budget Travel
What happens when your airline reservation magically disappears. One travel editor’s experience.

from AirSafe
On any given day, ten people will come to a US airport to board an airplane with a weapon in their possession — and seven of them will get past airport security. One of several statistical bits about the TSA, arrayed in the form of a vertical graphic.

from USA Today
How to keep European transportation strikes from blowing up your travel plans.

from Smarter Travel
Traveling to Europe this year? Bringing your iPhone with you? From restaurant guides and subway maps to currency converters and translators, these apps are custom-made to help the European traveler, and most of them are free.

from Woman Seeks World
One traveler’s list of the ten most popular countries to emigrate to. If you get the impression it’s a somewhat Eurocentric list, I wouldn’t argue.

from Lonely Planet
The LP crew offers up its list of the world’s ten best cycling routes. Saddle up.

from Fodors
Looking for a cruise that gets you off the familiar itineraries? One of these might feed your need for something different at sea.

from USA Today
Another old, familiar name in cruise ships is going away…sort of. Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas, whose wrap-around smokestack-mounted lounge created an iconic silhouette among Caribbean cruisers, is being transferred out of the fleet.

from USA Today
The river cruise business is heating up bigtime, especially in Europe. The Viking line christens four new European river cruisers…on the same day.


from Nature
Private developers are scrambling to buy up vast tracts of African land. Is this land grab holding back progress on the continent?

from eTurbo News
Perhaps none too soon, given the above developments, Tanzania plans to host the first-ever pan-African conference by the UN World Tourism Organization on sustainable tourism management in national parks and protected areas.

from University of Oxford
Did you know that Africa has as many cities of 1 million people or more as Europe? These guys see that as one of six reasons why investing in Africa is a good idea.

from NewsDay (Zimbabwe)
Think Americans are the only people in the world who are into reality television? Zimbabwe has its own reality TV show in the works, this one focused on the country’s tourist attractions. And yes, they plan to market this show globally.

from Wolfganghthome
Rwanda is hooking up with Google Maps to digitally mark its major tourist destinations, a first for the Mother Continent, according to this blogger.

from Travel Travel (United Kingdom)
A sample of the kind of cheap Africa vacation packages available from Europe. This one just happens to include a stay at the hotel where I stayed in the Gambia.


from Frommer’s Travel
Five ways for Americans to legally visit Cuba. SLIDESHOW

from USA Today
America’s capital is loaded with history, charm, great eateries, great watering holes — and it’s table-flat. Sound like a great weekend bike ride? Now, you can rent your wheels in Washington DC.


from the New York Times
Myanmar, the country that many of us still think of as Burma, is emerging as a new travel destination for the early 21st century. A primer on how to get there and what you’ll find.

from the New York Times
A generation ago, Laos was the site of the Southeast Asian war your parents didn’t know about. Today, it’s the exotic, fascinating travel destination that you may not know about.

from Gadling
When it comes to visiting India’s famed Taj Mahal, timing is everything, especially if you want that great pic.

from msnbc.com
Poor Las Vegas. First, they had to contend with casinos on Indian reservations siphoning off visitors. Now, they have to deal with Singapore.


from The Quirky Traveller
The quirky side of Britain’s Lake District.

from Mo Travels
A black American expat in Amsterdam shares her all-girl getaway near Lake Garda in Italy.

from The Guardian (London UK)
​Reader tips on where and what to eat in Turkey. If all you’re expecting is kebabs, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

from USA Today
International airports have been built on artificial islands before, but never at the mouth of one of the world’s busiest rivers, like the Thames in England. The mayor of London thinks that’s a fine idea.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Okay, this is just strange: Camel wrestling in Turkey? If your travel tastes run toward the bizarre, see this ancient Aegean custom — before the Turkish government finds a reason to ban it.



A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media.

This is the time of year when travel experts and industry observers offer up their forecasts for the new year.

The folks over at Travel+Leisure are expecting a lot of new cruise vacationers this year — and with all the ships coming out or already sailing, they’ll find no shortage of waiting cabins.
More on that later this week.

Over at Fox News, they expect more travelers to opt for vacation rentals over hotel stays, something IBIT has been advocating since we started up three years ago.

Meanwhile, the budget travel specialists over at About.com look for more travelers to opt for less popular destinations and less travel spending, especially in the face of what they anticipate as an upsurge in travel-related taxes and fees. Lovely.

They also see travelers zeroing in on countries whose currencies are more stable, which makes sense. It’s no fun waking up on the other side of the world to find out that the value of the local funds in your wallet has bottomed out overnight.

As for destinations, South America is hot, and not just for the climate. A lot of travelers are discovering they can find almost everything they look for in Europe by heading south instead of east, be it an urban experience or adventure travel.

Meanwhile, a lot of black American travelers are increasingly connecting with black Latino cultures in South America and the Caribbean as they realize how much of our history is also theirs. You’ll be seeing more about that here, too, in the coming days and weeks.

Another hot travel ticket for 2012: Asia. Between Asia-based airlines scrambling for more passengers and tour companies offering package almost too cheap to be legal, travel to Asian and Pacific destinations should be a strong draw in 2012.

One of the things that was lost with the “malling” of America was the concept of the department store food court.

That’s not the case elsewhere in the world, which explains why multi-story mega-stores like Harrods in London and the KaDeWe in Berlin are as famous for their food courts as they are for their clothing, jewelry and fine furnishings.

Department store food courts are mini-arcades, featuring fresh and canned goods from around the world, along with counters where the hungry shopper can sit down to some incredible cuisine. It’s the best of everything, carefully prepared and lovingly presented, or it’s not there.

They’re seldom cheap, but what you get for the money is usually well worth it.

The Frommers Web site offers a slideshow of some of its favorite food courts around the world. If you find yourself salivating by the time you finish it, that’s quite all right.

Lastly, 2012 in Japan came in not with a bang, but a tremor — a magnitude 7.0 earthquake off the coast, deep under the Pacific Ocean. Tokyo apparently got a good rattling, but no reports of damage or injuries early on.

And just as well, since the country is still recovering from last year’s devastating quake disaster. But when your nation makes its home on the Ring of Fire, you can’t expect any breaks from Mother Nature.

Japan’s New Year’s Day shaker is one more reminder that when you travel, you might actually want to figure out your own plan for getting out of the hotel in an emergency.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:


from USA Today
2011 was the safest year yet for air travel. That sound you hear is me, knocking on wood.

from the Wall Street Journal
the Christmas holidays may be over, but winter air travel may still give you lots of close encounters with cold and flu bugs. How to get through winter travel in good health.

from fastcodesign.com
Would to take a nap in a box in the airport? There’s a Russian outfit that’s betting you would, and you may one day start seeing their Sleepboxes in departure lounges.

from the National Geographic
NatGeo’s list of its favorite airports and why.

from the MSNBC
Is Southwest Airlines slipping? How do you let a 9-year-old girl fly unaccompanied by an adult, then basically lose the child for five hours? Not good.

from YouTube
Chris McGinnis explains about “dead weeks” and what makes them the best time to find travel bargains.

from the Age (Australia)
There’s a new Ferrari on Italy’s roads — its railroads. And like its four-wheeled namesake, it’s red, and it’s fast. Very fast.

from Bike Radar
Bike garages…in Los Angeles? Is Southern California finally beginning to cool on its love affair with the automobile?


from USA Today
There’s a lady in Indiana suing Carnival Cruise Lines. Reason: she said the ship was going too fast. You can’t make this stuff up.

from the Travel Weekly
San Francisco is going all in on an $86 million spruce-up on its waterfront, and a new cruise ship terminal is part of the package. If sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t on your bucket list, it should be.

from the Luxury Daily ​
Celebrity Cruises plans to offer more cruises this year with themes designed around food and wine. They’re called “Excite the Senses” cruises.


from allAfrica.com
Two hotels in Rwanda earn five-star ratings.

from allAfrica.com
Could medical tourism work for Africa the way it has for Asia? Some folks in Kenya are starting to look at it.

from This Day (Nigeria)
Want to know why African regional air travel suffers such a bad reputation? This is one example.

fromThis Day (Nigeria)
The Calabar Festival, Africa’s largest street party.


from the New York Times
How to spend a hip weekend in Trinidad.

from the Guardian (London UK)
Are you one of those folks who believes the world is going to end this year? Would you like to meet the folks whose ancient culture produced that prediction? If so, head for Guatemala.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Moderately priced hotels in Hawaii. That’s right, I said it!


from Nomadic Matt
Get your grub on like — and where — the locals do in Bangkok.

from the BBC Travel
The 2010 World Expo may only be a memory now, but Shanghai isn’t slowing down one bit — not in its growth, not in its swag and not in its rivalry with Beijing.

from the San Francisco Chronicle​
There’s more to French Polynesia than Tahiti and Bora Bora.

from Globetrooper
Train travel is one of the best ways to experience India, but you need to choose your berth with care. These guys will tell you how.


from the Guardian (London UK)
Each year, the European Union selects a city as the EU’s Capital of Culture. The bet here says you’ve never heard of it, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. Hint: it’s in Slovenia.

from the Girls Guide Paris
I can’t imagine wanting to ever get out of Paris, but if you need a quick getaway from the City of Light, the Burgundy region is a good candidate — and not just for the wine that bears its name.

from the Los Angeles Times
In any other city, an ATM machine will give you money. In Paris, the bread you get from an ATM may be warm and crusty and good with a little olive oil.

from the Huffington Post
​Do London like a Londoner.


The Leaning Tower of …LONDON?

© Alvaro Ennes | Dreamstime.com

The iconic clock tower that marks London’s Houses of Parliament has been gently shifting for decades. The tilt is now pronounced enough to see with the unaided eye.

Could it be that Italy’s famously leaning tower in Pisa is about to get some competition?

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper in London is reporting that the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, known incorrectly the world over as *Big Ben, has been gently and slowly tipping for decades.

As much as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Colosseum is to Rome or the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco, the Westminster clock tower, the dominant physical feature of the Houses of Parliament, is likely the first image that comes to your mind when someone says “London.”

So if the tower is tipping, it matters.

The tilt is now so pronounced, a full 18 inches “out of plumb,” that you can see it yourself, without the aid of surveyor’s tools.

Apparently, it was first detected back in the 1970s. Construction work in the 1990s to extend a heavily used subway line for the London Underground accelerated the process. So the UK government has known about this for a long time.

Not until the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information request, however, did the government admit it publicly, according to the Associated Press.

To read the full Sunday Telegraph story on the tilting tower, click here.

Don’t let the paper’s accompanying photo freak you out, though. The lean isn’t anywhere near that pronounced yet.

In fact, the best estimates are that it will take about 4,000 years for the London tower to catch up to its counterpart in Pisa.

By then, I suspect most of us will have lost interest.

*NOTE: The term “Big Ben” refers not to the tower, but to the bell of the clock that it houses.



A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Michael Jackson and Bubbles in gilded porcelain, Versailles
Michael Jackson and Bubbles in gilded porcelain, Versailles | ©Greg Gross

Twas the day before Tax Day,
and all through the house,
the grown-ups were shouting,
“Where’d I put those receipts?!”

This year, the normally dreaded April 15 tax filing deadline was moved up to April 18. For that, you can thank the calendar and Abraham Lincoln.

The District of Columbia celebrated a holiday I’d not heard of before this year — Emancipation Day, the day Lincoln freed the slaves in, of all places, Washington DC. The actual date of the order was April 16, 1862 — months before the better known Emancipation Proclamation.

Since April 16 this year fell on a Saturday, federal government offices, including the IRS, closed a day earlier. And that’s why you got an extra weekend to finish up those tax forms.

So why even bring up this onerous subject? According to the folks at Reuters, a lot of you plan to use your tax refunds this year to travel.

Of roughly 1,000 Americans polled by an outfit called Travel Leaders Franchise Group, about 57 percent said they were going to use at least part of that refund check to take them somewhere.

If you’d like to see where they said they wanted to go, you can read the entire Reuters story as it was published in the Los Angeles Times here.

Speaking of places to go, regular readers of this blog already know the ongoing love affair I have with Paris. If you’re not clear why, Entreé to Black Paris, will clue you in on some of the reasons why.

It’s written by American expat Monique Y. Wells, and one of the things she does is highlight beautiful, creative black American men and women, each doing their own thing and adding their own glow to the City of Light. Truly inspiring stuff.

Read this blog at your own peril, however. After the first few entries, you may feel a sudden, uncontrollable urge to start packing. If you do, give Monique a shout. She does tours.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:

from USA Today
A little over a month after a tsunami trashed it, drowned it and threatened to swallow it whole, Sendai’s battered airport is back in operation. It’s not at 100 percent by any stretch, but the fact that it’s operating at all borders on the miraculous.

from CNNgo.com
A secret study done by a Canada-based group of airport operators ranks the world’s top ten airports. There’s one from Europe, one from the Middle East and believe it or not, ATL. The other seven, including the top three, are all in Asia.

from US News & World Report (via Yahoo! Travel)
America’s meanest airlines. See if your list jibes with theirs.

from USA Today
United Air Lines at one point did away with their $75 fee for using your frequent-flier miles on a flight sooner than 21 days in advance. Guess what? They’re reinstating it. They’re also dropping other fees. Is it just me, or does this sound like the corporate version of a shell game?

from the Associated Press via Yahoo! Travel
So you paid the extra fee for the airline to check your bag — and they lost it, anyway. Do you think the airline should refund your money? If so, the federal government agrees with you.

from Budget Travel
You already knew that airlines could charge you more money for being too fat. Here’s one that will kick you off the plane for being too tall.

from the Associated Press via Yahoo! Travel
Meanwhile, ever wonder where lost luggage and their contents end up? The correct answer is Scottsboro, AL.

from MSNBC Travel
Bike cafes — a latte for you, a check-up for your bike, and space to safely lock up your precious wheels. As trends go, I love this one.

from MSNBC Travel
Here’s something you don’t see very often: a female cruise chip captain. Denmark’s Inger Olsen is skipper of Cunard’s massive new Queen Victoria. She took command last year. The world’s first female cruise ship skipper was named only in 2001.

from Cruise Critic
A new cruise line catering mainly to Mexican passengers has a ship lose power in an engine fire off the Mexican Pacific coast. No injuries, but the ship had to be evacuated. The vessel is an older ship that once belonged to Royal Caribbean.

from the Guardian (London, UK)
Do you run marathons? Ever feel yourself turning green with envy watching the world-class runners from Kenya leaving everyone else in the dust? Ever wish you could train how they do, where they do? Well, you can. Kenya is now offering runners camps.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
What kind of fun can you have at an old Army fort, without playing soldier? If it’s Fort Baker, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, the answers include everything from hiking and biking to luxury lodging, a cooking school and a restaurant with a Michelin star. The view’s not too bad, either.

from the Guardian (London, UK)
A new eco-lodge in India gives you a chance to see wild tigers in environmentally-friendly comfort. Here, kitty-kitty-kitty…

from the New York Times
In the era of fast-food and shopping malls, the department-store restaurant is kind of an old-school thing that’s almost extinct here in the United States, but it remains very much alive across the Atlantic. Equally handy for hurried travelers and dedicated foodies.

from the New York Times
Amsterdam’s city center is endlessly enjoyable, but to really appreciate the city, the NYT’s Gisela Williams says you need to go farther.

from the Associated Press
Iceland has a museum devoted to the penis. No, I’m not kidding…and not another word out of you!



Ferry from Banjul to Barra

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the wold’s best travel media

Paul Theroux has made a living going, and writing about going. Recently in the New York Times, he wrote about the idea of going where you’re not “supposed” to go.

Actually, it’s more about going to those places where the most common and immediate response when you broach the idea is “Are you crazy? Why would you go there?”

This statement is often followed by frantic insistence that it’s too far, it’s too strange, it’s too dangerous, it’s too…something.

If you’re familiar with Theroux’s body of work, you won’t be surprised if he disagrees. He makes a case for going off the beaten tourism paths, way off.

I got similar reactions from some folks when I told them I was going to the Gambia, for no real reason except that it was totally unfamiliar to them.

It turned out to be perhaps the greatest and most important trip of my life.

To read all of Theroux’s thoughts on this issue, click here.

Contrary to popular opinion, not only has the digital age not rendered the library null and void, but many are actually thriving and some of the newer ones, like Seattle’s, are actually leading revivals in the downtown cores where they were built.

I personally enjoy going over to the Geisel Library on the campus of the University of California, San Diego to work — among other things, on preparing this digest. Quiet. plenty of resources, plenty of room, plenty of electric outlets for my laptop — and it’s an architectural marvel besides.

And I could probably livehappily in the Library of Congress in Washington DC, which many be the greatest repository of knowledge since the original Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

The folks at USA Today has assembled a list of ten cool libraries, old and new, municipal and collegiate, that offer activities and tours. If one of them is near you, check it out.

And be sure to check out their Travel section.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:

from the Associated Press
How old is old in airplane years? From the ordinary airline passenger to the Federal Aviation Administration, a lot of folks are pondering that question after one of southwest Airlines’ older Boeing 737s developed a 5-foot hole in its fuselage recently in mid-air, causing the plane to depressurize and forcing an emergency landing.

from the New York Times
The art of being “bumped” from a flight, and how to profit from it. See why some travelers actually look forward to it.

from The Daily Basics
The Walkin’ Desk is equal parts rolling suitcase, mobile desk and anywhere-chair.

from USA Today
With the glut of new cruise ships out there, we’ve been telling you this was going to happen: Royal Caribbean is offering last-minute deals on two of its newest luxury behemoths, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas. Watch for other cruise lines to follow suit.

from Associated Press via Yahoo!
Carnival is the latest cruise line to pull the plug on Mazatlan in the wake of reports of crime and violence there. That means more port calls for Cabo San Lucas and Manzanillo.

from USA Today
Mexico isn’t the only cruise destination having problems. Passengers landing at the new cruise ship terminal in Falmouth, Jamaica are getting bum-rushed by drug dealers and prostitutes. The facility only opened in February. Royal Caribbean is threatening to bar their passengers from going into town. Nervous local officials are scrambling to beef up security.

from the Calgary Sun (Canada)
The popularity of adventure tourism in the West African nation of Mali is exposing ever more Westerners to the art of Dogon woodcarving. Result: a lot of Dogon wood work is turning up in art galleries all over the Western world.

from Agence France Presse
Africa’s lions are getting some unwanted company. The latest animal on the Mother Continent to show declining numbers in the face of changes to its habitat — South African penguins.

from the Sunday Times (South Africa)
Americans may not be traveling in sizable numbers to visit northern and sub-Saharan Africa, but Russian tourists are — and the country’s tourism ministry apparently is pushing African tourism, hard. Zimbabwe, whose president, Robert Mugabe, is largely a pariah in the West, is looking toward Moscow for the same reason. Meanwhile, back in Washington DC…

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Ever thought about backpacking? Looking for a place to ease into it, but still offers the great outdoor, complete with ocean views? Consider the Point Reyes National Seashore, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. I did that there myself as a college student. There’s nothing like the feeling of walking on a beach where the only human footprints are yours.

from the New York Times
An underground food market. Not a cave…a movement. No commercial kitchen? No licenses? No problem. Just what you’d expect to pop up in San Francisco.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
If you’re speeding about in jet boats, exploring caves and listening to Shakespeare all in the same day, odds are you’re in southern Oregon.

from Bangkok Beyond
Thailand enthusiast Frank Munkvold gives the breakdown on Thai markets, including all-important tips on how to haggle. Pay close attention to that advice, because it’s good for almost anywhere in the developing world.

from USA Today
Believe it or not, Europe could be a travel bargain this summer — if you’re willing to forgo to usual tourism suspects and head for destinations that are both attractive and super-cheap. And yes, Europe has several of those.

from Sock Mob Events
Not your typical tour of London. These are led by London’s homeless.

from the Guardian (London UK)
A list of ten places for cheap eats in West London — although the British pound definitely makes “cheap” a relative concept to most travelers.

from the Guardian (London UK)
Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam. The American West? Nope, try Poland. that’s right, Poland.


Home Sweet Homes

Want to know when you begin to cross over from being a tourist to becoming a traveler?

It’s not when your first passport arrives in the mail, nor even when an immigration officer in a foreign country stamps that passport for the very first time.

It starts the moment you pick up the rhythm of life in a different place, and realize that it is also your rhythm. The moment when something in these streets, these places, these faces and voices, resonates with you in ways the travel agent back home never told you about.

“You know what?” you tell yourself. “I could live here.”

And your self doesn’t argue.

That’s when it happens.

If you’ve traveled at all in your life, there’s a good chance you’ve already got your own list of such places in in your memory.

This is mine:

Technically, this is cheating, since I actually did live here once. Whatever. I’ll just sue myself for an obscene sum of money and go do comedy shows in the Midwest.

What the hell, it worked for Charlie Sheen…and I’m sober.

I have a kind of love/hate/indifferent relationship with New Orleans. Sometimes, I love it. Sometimes, I hate it.

The NOLA? It doesn’t give a damn either way.

In its personality, the city is a bit like the significant other who has an unfailing ability to drive you crazy, in both good and bad ways.

Heat, humidity, pounding rain, high crime and all manner of low people in high places — New Orleans is at time aggravating enough to make the Bible’s Job go postal.

Then you sample the food, the drink, the music. You get a feel of the human spirit in the city that created all that. You walk through Audubon Park. You ride the St. Charles streetcar. You jog along the top of a levee, stroll in the shade of oaks and magnolias and willows.

And you wonder why you’d want to live anywhere else.

New Orleans may be big, but she’s hardly easy, and if you fall in love with her, it will be strictly on her terms.

The first time you touch down in New York City, you understand why this had to be the United Nations headquarters.

The whole world is already here.

It’s got a rhythm, a pulse, a heart rate which, in a human being, might be cause for a trip to the hospital. When you find it in a city, it’s energizing. It lifts you up and gets you going, if only to keep you from getting run over by all those New Yorkers coming up behind you on the sidewalk.

New York is the guy in the park, jogging at a pace obviously faster than yours, who silently challenges you to keep up. You may or may not succeed, but you benefit a lot just by trying.

But all that is Manhattan, just one of the five boroughs that comprise New York City — Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island — each with its own vibe. And within each borough, multiple neighborhoods of individual personalities.

I’ve got a lot more of NYC left to get to know.

The city with the conceit to think of itself as “The City” — and the beauty, romance and vibrance to vindicate all that attitude — is a bit of a tease.

There are two places in the world where you need to a see a sunset before you die. Key West is one. This is the other. Whether from the top of Coit Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge or the middle of San Francisco Bay on Treasure Island, it really doesn’t matter.

Not a lot of malls in this town, but a lot of commercial streets, packed block after block with little shops and restaurants of every cuisine, ethnicity and price range.

Right around the corner from these streets are neighborhoods that let you actually walk to do your shopping. It’s incredibly civilized.

But if you entertain the thought of actually living in one of those neighborhoods, the reality of the cost-of-living in San Francisco slaps you in the face like…well…a slap in the face!

Take all the beauty and charm of San Francisco. Subtract The City’s preening self-consciousness. Add the traditionally laid-back attitudes of Marin County or Santa Fe, NM.

Vancouver is more or less what you get.

Vancouver is so pristine that it feels more like a movie set that real people happen to live in. You have to work to find a neighborhood that doesn’t give you an oh-my-God! view of mountains or water or both.

How many other big cities in North America can you go down to a waterside park and watch airplanes take off from and land on a gorgeous bay, with occasional stops at a floating gas station? Even the airport’s on an island.

We won’t even get into the ferry runs between Vancouver and Victoria. What the rest of the world would call a scenic cruise, these folks call a commute.

It’s not just the view. People in Vancouver at times seem almost impossibly nice. Up there, rudeness marks you as a visitor, most likely from the States. It’s also extremely bike-friendly.

I’m almost afraid to sleep in Vancouver, lest I find out the whole thing was just a dream…and I wake up in Los Angeles.

Hyper-tense, but in a good way. New York’s equivalent in terms of pace and energy, minus the collective neurosis. A sprawling world capital, but built to a human scale, for people, not cars.

Spend one day navigating around via the London Underground, aka “the Tube,” and you feel as if you own the whole town.

Just “mind the gap.”

Fresh and familiar all at once. Everything old and everything new. History and happenings, all wrapped up in the same 24/7 package. You always get the feeling that something cool is always happening somewhere — just around the way or outside the next Tube stop.

Plugging yourself into the rhythm of this global capital is easy; the hard part comes when you have to disconnect.

London just might not let you.

The major downside: You may have to rob several banks — or own one — to afford to live here.

All big cities on the planet, no where where you find them, share one quality. Turn off almost any of their huge, sprawling, impersonal, traffic-clogged “grand boulevards” and you’re liable to find, within a block or two, a quiet, livable neighborhood.

It’s just that Paris seems to have more of them than anywhere else.

This is a city where people just know how to live. You find a cafe with the vibe that suits you and you make it your second home, your detached living room, dining room, parlor. You linger over lunch, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. You check out the passing parade. You talk, discuss, debate, argue.

When you don’t feel like sitting, you stroll the parks, you stroll the Seine. Peruse a newsstand, browse a bookshop. You savor the string of good moments.

In between, you work and sleep.

Yeah, I could do that.

For all its history, attractions and charms, the biggest draw in Paris for me is that it seems to be a city whose people have their priorities straight. Life, and loving life, come first.

It’s no accident that I prefer staying in apartments over hotels when I’m in Paris. Perhaps more than any other metropolis in the world, you want to feel like you live here.

That’s my list.

What’s yours?


Travel — Do it for your kids!

Kids who see more of the world do better in school — and maybe better in life.

“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
—George Santayana, 1863-1952

Are you a parent? Would you like for your kids to get a richer education than they can get in the classroom alone? Or would you be happy if they just got better grades?

If your answer is “yes,” put down the remote, turn off the Wii — yes, even log off this computer — and take your kids traveling.

According to studies from the U.S. Travel Association, kids who travel with their families tend to do better in school.

You can tell me the USTA is just a travel industry lobby group, which it is. Or that they have an agenda, which they do.

What you can’t tell me is that they’re wrong.

You can’t tell me that standing where Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial to proclaim his now-famous dream doesn’t resonate in the mind of a young child.

You can’t tell me that walking that long black wall of 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial won’t teach a kid more about the cost of war than dry recitations of military history.

Or that hearing the recorded voices of slave ancestors at the Library of Congress, or being able to peer inside an astronaut’s space capsule, won’t fire a young imagination.

And that’s just in one place — Washington D.C.

Wait until they get that first look at the Mississippi River, the giant Sequoias in California, the Grand Canyon, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Let them ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, look out from the top of the Empire State Building.

Let them walk in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman along the Underground Railroad.

Pause in front of the house in Queens where Louis Armstrong sat on his front steps and taught little kids to play trumpet.

Or pass through the Old Federal Courthouse in St.Louis, under the shadow of that gleaming arch, where a panel of federal judges from the South informed Dred Scott that he was legally only three-fifths of a man because he was a slave.

(You’ll also learn that it was his slaveowners, not the U.S. government, that finally did the right thing and set him free — but not before being briefly the property of an abolitionist!)

Educational? Yeah, I’d say so.

But all that is prelude. Just wait until an immigration officer stamps their passport and welcomes them into a foreign land for the first time.

That’s when they start to realize that there’s a lot more to this world than our little corner of it, and that they need not live in fear of the people in it.

A 2006 survey done for the International Student Travel Organization showed that “a clear majority of students who traveled on an international exchange program felt they had become more trusting, open-minded, flexible, confident, and tolerant as a result of their travel experiences.”

Think we could use a little more of that in America?

There’s another educational benefit from travel. You and your kids may come home with a better idea of what your schools are not teaching.

I was in grade school in Oakland when we got an exchange student from northern Italy — Pietro. Nice kid. Tall, blond, athletic. The girls went nuts. A few words of Italian and he had them practically wrapped around his ankles.

But Pietro wasn’t interested in charming the socks off a bunch of American grade-school girls. He was on a mission to work on his English.

I don’t know why; his English was flawless. As was his German. As was his French.

I’ll go out on a limb right here and guess that his Italian was pretty good, too.

Wait a minute, hold up! A kid our own age, fluent in four languages, while we sit here struggling with English — and we were born here?

Nor was it just English. In virtually every other subject — math, history, social studies — Pietro seemed to be at least as well versed as our teachers. Pretty soon, he had some of us looking at each other like, “What’s wrong with us? Why are we lagging so bad?”

He also had us looking at our teachers, who suddenly didn’t seem so omniscient anymore. As happy as they were when Pietro arrived, I think some were even happier when he left.

You know what’s up with public schools today. Shrinking budgets, campus closings, educational enrichment programs disappearing like mirages in the desert, people using “charter schools” to siphon both students and funds away from public schools.

Add it all up, and you find our kids missing out on a lot of things that my generation took for granted. But you don’t have to accept that. With some well thought out family travel, you can fill those gaps in your kids’ education.

Rare is the travel provider these days that doesn’t offer some sort of discounted family travel package to almost any destination in the world. Pick one that looks good, check it out thoroughly, then start packing.

You don’t even have to tell the kids that their vacation is really a learning experience on steroids.

We’ll just keep that between us.


San Francisco

If the only thing you leave here is your heart, you didn’t stay long enough.

My soul and the City of San Francisco are in a relationship. It’s complicated.

If you closely observe urban life for a living, you couldn’t imagine a better working town. The music, the art, the food, all of it from every culture and nationality. Crazy politics and crazier politicians. One part bazaar, other parts bizarre, all placed in a jeweled setting of hills, architecture, sea and bay.

Perhaps the most beautiful of American cities. If you’re a photographer, almost every shot you take here is a potential postcard. Few skylines anywhere burn their way more deeply into your memory than that of San Francisco from across Treasure Island on a fog-free night.

Vermont Street, San Francisco

Apart from that, San Francisco just has the kind of urban sense of presence to which Los Angeles and Phoenix and Dallas can only aspire, in vain.

When my professional life as a writer and journalist began in San Francisco 40 years ago, I figured I’d spend my whole career here. It didn’t work out that way. But every so often, I have to renew my acquaintance with The City for a few hours.

First stop, the crookedest street in the world. No, NOT Lombard Street. It’s actually Vermont Street, in the working-class neighborhood of Potrero Hill, where O.J. Simpson grew up, not far from the Mission District.

It starts at the little McKinley Square park at 20th Street and winds down seven serious hairpin turns to 22nd. Misjudge any one of those seven turns and you’ll find yourself in someone’s driveway — or their living room.

You know that Kia automobile commercial, the one in which a friendly motorist offers a stranded cabbie a lift, then takes him on a wild ride down the tightest set of switchbacks you’ve ever seen in a city?

That’s Vermont Street.

Lombard has more turns and more hype. Vermont is steeper. The geeks will tell you that Vermont has greater “sinuosity.” Having driven both, I can tell you I wouldn’t take a skateboard down either one.

Today, it was just Vermont. Right-left-right-left-right-left-right. By the time I hit the bottom, I was grinning from ear to ear.

All those curves spun me toward downtown, Market Street, still the commercial heart of the city. I didn’t have a car when I started out here back in the day, but you could get around San Francisco surprisingly well on streetcars.

Apparently, you still can.

Nowadays, though, the streetcars can transport you in more ways than one. The city runs historic 1930s vintage PCC streetcars and antique trolleys from 14 American cities and countries as far away as Italy, Germany, Russia and Japan, each in their original colors.

!930s PCC streetcar in Phialdelphia livery on Market Street, San Francisco. Background right, antique trolley from Milan, Italy.

For train nuts like me, seeing all these different rolleys on the streets in The City — not only from different cities, but different countries — is just entirely too cool.

Especially when you realize just how much history each of those streetcars represents.

I didn’t when I took that shot from my car, but that Philadelphia streetcar represents a milestone in black Civil Rights history.

It was the summer of 1994, at the height of World War 2. Because of manpower shortages, the Philadelphia Transportation Co. was under pressure to let black employees run the streetcars.

The white PTC employees weren’t having it. When eight black streetcar “motormen” were preparing to make their first trial run on Aug. 1, they staged a “sickout” that paralyzed Philadelphia for a week. In a city full of war factories and shipyards, thousands of people couldn’t get to work.

The Army moved in and ran the streetcars, but the strike didn’t end until Washington threatened to revoke the strikers’ draft deferments. Throughout, the new black motormen stayed on the job, to be joined within a year by hundreds of others.

Had I known all that, I might have sat up just a little straighter as that Philadelphia streetcar — and its black motorman — rumbled by.

After that, it was off to the Presidio for a little game of historical “what-if?”

Back when the Presidio was a U.S. Army base, you only got the most fleeting glimpse of a few strange concrete structures amid the trees as you drove toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Presidio is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, open to all, and you can see for yourself what all those wind-shaped trees were hiding all those decades.

A modern-day fortress.

Those bizarre structures were meant to hide coastal artillery, 35 gun batteries on both sides of the Golden Gate to defend San Francisco Bay from invasion, a very real fear after Pearl Harbor. Some of those guns were the size of a house, able to throw a half-ton shell nearly 20 miles.

Old gun position south of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. A hug cannon once sat on the concrete turntable, foreground. A underground magazine fed shells and gunpowder to the gun.

Could these batteries have stopped a fleet of Japanese battle fleet, or would they have been shattered and their exposed gun crews slaughtered? The guns themselves are long gone, but the batteries remain, a curiosity for tourists, a magnet for taggers, a burning memory for the aging veterans who stood guard here against an invasion that, thankfully, never came.

There is one invasion that swept over San Francisco decades ago and never left — a horde of great places to eat. This is a foodies’ paradise. Whole streets and boulevards are devoted to restaurants of every style and ethnicity.

On one of them, Geary Street, you can practically eat your way from downtown to the ocean, and navigate a world of tastes as you do. Italian and Vietnamese stand next-door to Chinese and French, across the street from Russian and Thai and around the corner from Ethiopian and Korean, with a few steakhouses, produce markets and cigar bars thrown in here and there as points of reference.

A poster of famed artist Salvador Dali near Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco

All of them are local joints, not a chain resto in sight.

Whatever your taste in food and drink, if you can’t find it here, you might as well stop looking.

Not sure what to have, what you want? Just drive around with your window rolled down and follow the aromas. Ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Maybe it will be cardamom, chili oil, wood charcoal and lemongrass.

It was just a quick three hours or so, just long enough for a partial reminder of why I left my heart, soul and God-knows-what-else here. It’s a relationship I barely understand, and definitely can’t explain. To paraphrase a U.S. Supreme Court justice, I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I feel it — and I feel it whenever I’m here.

Some folks don’t understand why Tony Bennett is still performing his iconicsong, “I Left My Heart in San Francidco” at the age of 84. I do, and if you ever visit here, odds are you will, too.

Sing it, Tony. Sing it…


Sightjogging: Travel on the run

Stay in shape and see the sights at the same time!

Okay, in the interest of full disclosure: I am not now nor ever will be a jogger. The closest I come to running is lacing up a pair of New Balance athletic shoes, which are extremely comfortable on my big feet and which I wear everywhere except to bed. But that’s it.

I don’t even like to jog my memory.

But a lot of you out there are totally into the running thing for good health, and good for you. You also love to travel. But you worry that an extended trip away from home will disrupt your exercise routine and cause you to lose progress you’ve spent months building up.

For you, there’s the perfect solution: jogging tours, just one of a growing category of travel, athletic tourism.

Walking and bicycle tours of the world’s great cities have been around for ages, and backpackers have been doing their thing almost forever. Joggers are relatively new to the travel circuit, but given the worldwide enthusiasm for pounding the pavement for the sake of fitness, it was only a matter of time.

We’re not talking here merely about providing runners with a route map to jog on their own, although you can find plenty of those, too. We’re talking actual tour groups who take in the sights together and burn calories together at the same time.

You veteran runners out there probably already know about these tours. I had to go all the way to Berlin recently before I heard of something they’ve been doing in my hometown of San Diego for years. But if you’re new to the jogging discipline, you may not have heard about this.

Here’s how it works.

You sign up over the phone or online. You pay a small fee. A course is worked out for you according to your physical ability and the sights that interest you. You meet at the appointed time and place with other tourist-joggers of like-minded interest and lung capacity…and off you go!

The Germans have their own named for this. Instead of sightseeing, they call it “sightjogging.”

I’ve already told you I’m no jogger — but if I were, I would love this. You could get yourself one of those sleek form-fitting Under Armor T-shirts made up with your own little message on the back:


Really, why trot around some boring block or tired track when you can get your cardio on while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or passing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris?

And if you time the traffic lights just right (or just wrong), the Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires — the widest street in the world — could be just the place to work on your sprinting technique.

This boulevard is nine lanes wide, so broad that astronauts can see it from space. Almost everyone who tries to cross that street in one go has to run at some point.

At least, you’ll be dressed for it!

For you singles out there, it’s also a chance to meet like-minded health-conscious travelers with similar interest, tastes and resting pulse rates. And if all goes well, the two of you may find other ways to boost your metabolism together, who knows?

Here’s an (admittedly very) partial list of cities where you can find jogging tours:

  • Berlin
  • Beverly Hills
  • Buenos Aires
  • Capetown, South Africa
  • Chicago
  • Copenhagen
  • London
  • Lyon, France
  • Montreal
  • New York
  • Quebec
  • Rome
  • San Diego
  • Sydney
  • Tokyo
  • Venice
  • Washington DC

You’ll find a list of companies offering running tours on the Cool Travel Sites page. Do some searching online and you’ll probably find some outfits that can and will organize entire trips for groups of runners, but these kinds of tours are especially ideal for independent travelers who would just as soon skip the tour bus.

I suspect there are similar jogging tours in Beijing and other Chinese cities, as well. But given the air quality there — or lack thereof — you might want to do some serious research before you lace up your sneaks in the Middle Kingdom.

If you’re truly serious about your running, you can truly take your jogging tourism to another level in Peru. Companies there will give you the chance to see that country’s sights and train at altitude in the Andes at the same time.

And yes, I know that some of you out there are actually hard-core enough to do that.

I will respectfully applaud and admiringly cheer as you jog past my outdoor table, where I will be sipping on the local beer…and sitting down!