When I wrote my first family travel guide to California for Fodor’s 20 years ago, I took my children — Grael, then age 14, and Lia, then age 11 — all over the state as a vital part of the research.
Usually I could sense right off the bat which attractions and activities they liked: going on rides at Universal Studios theme park, good; driving endlessly around Lake Tahoe checking out hotel rooms, bad. Camping in Death Valley, good; walking tour of Monterey Bay Historic Park, bad. (Lia was particularly bored with that one.)
One activity I knew didn’t bore her, though, was our whitewater rafting trip on the American River in the California Gold Country, with an outfitter called Adventure Connection. What I didn’t know for sure at the time was whether she found it exhilarating or terrifying.
Several years… Continue reading
When my son, Grael, was a child, I used to read “The Adventures of Tintin“ books to him nearly every night.
For those of you who don’t know about Tintin, he was a brilliantly drawn cartoon character created by the Belgian artist Hergé, a boy reporter who, along with his faithful dog Snowy and hard-drinking, foul-mouthed sidekick Captain Haddock, solved mysteries in exotic locales around the globe.
Besides outsmarting and outfighting dastardly villains, he had to overcome the interference of two bumbling detectives, Thompson and Thomson, who looked exactly alike and were equally incompetent, and deal with eccentric figures like hearing-impaired Professor Calculus and operatic diva Bianca Castafiore.
Tintin was always getting into and then escaping from life-threatening situations, and the colorful illustrations, reflecting a world that pre-dated mass tourism, made everything foreign — from Egypt to Tibet, Latin America… Continue reading
Reading a post this morning on global travel scams – mostly involving pickpockets in some way — reminded me to recommend a pair of trousers that I traveled to Europe with this spring in anticipation of possibly encountering, well, pickpockets.
And indeed, while crossing the crowded Charles Bridge in Prague, our Insight Vacations guide warned our group of travelers (all travel journalists) to guard our wallets, since Prague — and the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square in particular — are havens for the light-fingered folks who prey on unwary tourists.
While pickpockets can be very clever, I felt safe in my Pick-Pocket Proof Pants™, as they’re called, made by a New York company called Clothing Arts. Every pocket is secured by zippers, covers and buttons, so you can layer two or even… Continue reading
Though it lacks the glitz and glamour of St. Moritz, Gstaad, or Zermatt, the Jungfrau region may be the most truly “Swiss” of any alpine resort area in Switzerland.
All the prototypical Swiss images are here: the towering snow-capped peaks, the glacier-cut valleys, the flower-blanketed meadows, the rushing rivers and thundering waterfalls, the neatly trimmed A-frame chalets, the colorful little cogwheel trains chugging up the hillsides.
If you encountered Heidi on your morning walk, you wouldn’t blink twice.
And while towns like Wengen, Mürren, and Grindelwald may not be household names in the U.S., the Swiss know them well. The Jungfrau was one of the first alpine resort areas in Europe, and the Swiss have flocked here for outdoorsy vacations for more than a century.
While no area of Switzerland is exactly a budget haven, the Jungfrau region – situated… Continue reading
I’ve previously written in praise of Douglas Ward’s longstanding guidebook series Cruising and Cruise Ships (Berlitz), considered the bible of the industry when it comes to ocean-cruising ship reviews. His 2014 guide is in its 29th year of publication.
Now Ward is out with the first edition of River Cruising in Europe (Berlitz), and if you’re planning a river voyage in Europe anytime soon, it should be high on your reading list.
European river cruising, as I’ve noted a number of times in this blog, is the hottest segment of the cruising market right now. It’s especially popular among baby boomers – travelers in their 50s and 60s.
On board the Europa 2, Hapag-Lloyd’s elite new cruise ship, I got a taste of what it might be like to sail the Mediterranean on my own private yacht.
Entering the Sicilian port of Trapani on the first morning, I arrived at the ship’s indoor-outdoor buffet as it opened for breakfast. With no other passengers in sight, I was greeted by a phalanx of servers and a cheery chorus of “Guten Morgens” and “Good mornings” (Hapag-Lloyd is a German line, but Europa 2’s crewmembers are bilingual).
For the next several minutes, I sat alone on deck overlooking the sea and the city, basking both in the early morning sun and the full attentions of the eager-to-please crew, who proffered cappuccinos, freshly squeezed juices, cooked-to-order omelets – anything I wanted.
Later in the cruise, when I went for… Continue reading
Sometimes travel discoveries come strictly through serendipity.
While attending a recent family reunion in southern Illinois, my new daughter-in-law, Nona Patrick, mentioned that she knew of a quilt museum in Paducah, Kentucky, that she would like to see someday. As it happens, Paducah was just a 45-minute drive from our reunion site and, since we had some extra time before driving back to the St. Louis airport (yes, three states figure into this tale), I suggested we go see it then and there — especially since Nona and our son, Grael, live in Tucson, Arizona — not exactly next door to Kentucky.
Until a few years ago, when I wrote a story on quilting theme cruises for Porthole Cruise Magazine, I would have said I had little interest in quilting and would have opted to… Continue reading
On our recent cruise down the Mississippi River aboard American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi, my wife, Catharine, and I started in Memphis and ended in New Orleans.
In between came stops in ports as large as Baton Rouge, as small as St. Francisville (Louisiana) and as medium-sized as Natchez, Mississippi. We also stopped at several lovely antebellum plantations that illustrated the wealth of the region before the Civil War, built on cotton, sugar and the slaves who worked the fields or served the plantation owners and their families in their homes.
The most striking of the plantations, to me, is called Oak Alley, which we visited the last full day of the cruise before reaching New Orleans. It’s on the west (Louisiana) bank of the Mississippi, where a number of estates line the… Continue reading
Along with the LSU Fighting Tigers, Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, seems obsessed with Huey Long.
LSU, whose football stadium holds 92,450 people and whose mascot, Mike, is a real 750-pound tiger who lives in a $3 million enclosure until it’s time to come out to the games and roar, is clearly number one in local hearts, but Huey Long — the long dead ex-governor and senator, assassinated some 80 years ago– must be number two.
Long, who gave himself the nickname “Kingfish,” is the subject of sizable exhibits both at the Capitol Park Museum (part of the Louisiana State Museum system) and at the Old State Capitol building, an architectural gem — it resembles a castle — that Long hated and where he was once impeached.
Long hated it so much that he built the… Continue reading
On my recent American Cruise Lines’ voyage down the Mississippi aboard the paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi, we left the state of Mississippi behind about halfway through the week. Our new destination was Louisiana, on the western side of the river, making our first stop in a very inviting looking town called St. Francisville, which, despite a pouring rain that morning, proved one of the most interesting ports on the Mississippi.
St. Francisville is actually the second oldest incorporated town in Louisiana, with Spanish and British roots rather than French, as you find farther south in the state. Nearly 150 structures compose its National Register Historic District, recalling the world of the antebellum South. The artist and naturalist John James Audobon did a number of his famous bird drawings here.
It… Continue reading