Wednesday, December 28, 2011

51 Lessons Learned from Travel in 2011

Sometimes I hear from people I have a 'dream job.' I do get to travel a lot, talk about travel, think about travel -- so, yes, it can be pretty good. For 2011 I spent a lot of my time in Canada -- five separate trips! -- and with heavy metal singers. Here's my 51:

1. Quebec City's better in winter, but the Ice Hotel is nuts. It's so cold after a couple hours you can still shiver in a hot tub (literally).
2. Sandwiches will always be funny. Like this London street:
3. And talking about sandwiches can not only get you a mention in the New Yorker, but you'll learn things like Massachusetts courts had to settle a dispute between Panera Bread and Qdoba Mexican Grill over what a sandwich really is. And that when Elvis picked a cover for his first gospel album, he went to Sandwich, Massachusetts.
4. Seeing a 'black rodeo' in Boley, Oklahoma was great, but nothing compared to its 'potato on the stick.'

5. Osama Bin Laden's place of death -- Abbottabad, Pakistan - inspired the worst poem in history.
6. From the air at night, Regina, Saskatchewan looks like a tidy, obedient square of city light.
7. If you run smack forehead-to-chin into Ann Curry at NBC's Today Show studio, she will immediately apologize.
8. Curling in Quebec comes with tassled hats, beer, chocolate and a free failed lesson.
9. There is a name for my long love/dislike relationship with Russia, per Ian Frazier, a qualified 'Russia-love.'
10. It's not fun being hog-tied, even if it's at 'Mountie school.'

11. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is named for a whining fort-maker who took his fort-making materials and went home in a huff when he wasn’t allowed to run his own fort in the War of 1812.
12. Iceland is a shorter flight from New York than New York to San Francisco. And it is absolutely unreal. Even on my mental two-day trip to Arukeyri to see volcanic craters.

13. Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden –- pilot, fencer, author, metal legend -- is a really nice guy.

14. It's important to be very very careful where and when you wear GREEN SHORTS, or you might end up in a travel brochure like I did.
15. The cheapest way to stay in a Frank Lloyd Wright building is in his only skyscraper, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
16. There’s an old sign for the long-demolished Knickerbocker Hotel on the subway platform on the Shuttle line at 42 St/Times Square.
17. Nice seeing Haiti considering travel as means for rebuilding, per its booth at Berlin's ITB.
18. Cleveland’s Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame -- which I've banned -- says yes to Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Donovan (!?), the Small Faces (!?) and someone named Tom Dowd (!?) but still won’t consider adding Rush – the third-biggest selling band of all time.
19. By the way, there's at least one female Rush fan.
20. Playing hockey with 12-year-olds in an Edmonton mall is exactly as much fun as it sounds.

21. It's apparently best to save Kate Winslett and your mom from a fire while naked. Per the world's most famous goatee.
22. Yes, the Montreal bagel is better than the New York City bagel.
23. Getting a look inside Montreal's bizarre Habitat '67 housing complex feels like being in a concrete toy-block castle.

24. Lord Stanley -- of Stanley Cup fame -- thought a lot of himself. So much when he created a Vancouver park for all 'colours, creeds and customs' to enjoy 'for all time,' he named it, naturally, after himself.
25. Amelia Earhart twice failed to reach the tiny Howland Island, which the US claimed in the 1800s because of all its bird poo. You still can’t go.
26. Ever wondered what happened to Scooby Doo's van? Yep, just as I expected, it's outside Joni Mitchell's old house in Saskatoon.

27. Sir Humphrey Gilbert is the father of British colonialism. And a very clumsy one. He ignored Queen Elizabeth, wrecked his boat in St John's, Newfoundland, spouted off its new colonial status to small gathering of indifferent Spanish and French settlers, said he was staying for good, then left a week later, cut his foot, got sick, sailed off back to Europe on a leaky boat, which promptly sank, drowning Sir Humphrey Gilbert. We need a movie.
28. Professional writers who blog aren't bloggers, they're 'jourblists.'
29. The curator of Iceland's Phallological Museum, who retired a couple months after my interview below, knows exactly how NOT to preserve a penis specimen.

30. Travel costs are up 46% more than inflation in the last 61 years.
31. You can build and destroy an igloo in Queens.
32. Maybe the next big thing in travel isn't street food or 'local travel' but closing your eyes.
33. One of the reasons B&Bs scare me -- things like this beside your bed:

34. Hockey fans are a lot happier when they win. (Than when they lose.)

35. Before Dudley Do-Right, there were 'singing Mountie' films.

36. The real name for a gopher is the Richardson's Ground Squirrel.
37. After I returned from a (short) morning jog, a Saskatchewan B&B house-cleaner who longs to move to New York told me, in a feverish sing-song rat-a-tat, 'You ran around the lake? They just found a body over there. Couldn't tell who because he was so rotted, just the sex. So that's kinda cool.'
38. Elvis had Graceland, the Red Elvis had this (in East Berlin):

39. London has hills!
40. Speaking of which, the pub on the cover of the Kinks' iconic 'Muswell Hillbillies' album is really really lame now ('Dusk till Dawn' by the Archway tube station).
41. The 'rat alley' -- where Robert Sullivan spied on rats in his superb New York City book, 'Rats' -- is rat-free during the day. (This video shows where it is.)

42. Maryland's bizarre uniform choice -- football's first color-clashing bi-helmet -- is underrated.
43. The sweet 80-something Berlin lady who fell in a subway station, and I helped get up, tenderly rubbed my hand with her red knit-gloved hand as we went down the stairs together. We didn't share a word of common language -- other than 'danke' -- but I'll remember that.
44. I was shocked to see how easy it is to sneak behind Lincoln at Ford's Theater. Memo to 1865 presidential advisers in a city bordering an enemy state: put a guard outside the door.
45. DC's metro stations are underrated.

46. So are Montreal's.

47. I got to go to Newfoundland in 2011, and Newfoundland is simply a GIFT to travel.
48. If you don't get the 'Paris in the 20s' thing -- and I didn't for years -- Ernest Hemingway's 'A Moveable Feast' will change that.
49. The honorary ReidOnTravel Certificate of Merit for Best Film goes to 'The Artist.' A silent film in 2011 -- yes, thank you.
50. My favorite place to fly over? Nevada. Its marbled mountains look like decapitated Shar Peis huddled together -- I want to get out there and drive it every time I see it.
51. Lips from Anvil told me in Toronto that since this wonderful, heart-breaking documentary he's finally been able to quit his day job and focus just on music for the first time, well, ever. 'I'm living the dream.'

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to have a Robust Christmas (Part III)

Two years ago, the 76-Second Travel Show noted how the use of 'robust' had risen steeply on both sides of the Atlantic, while creating a new Christmas carol for the ages, 'Robust Christmas (Let's Make It Robust).' Here's the video:

And the trend continued last year too in the US, with a steep rise from 900 usages to over 1400 in the New York Times (slightly above this year's mark of 1371, as of Dec 22).

But to celebrate Robust Christmas III, we thought -- here at 76-Second Travel Show headquarters -- to take an alternate take at gauging the rise of robust. By use in headlines.

This graph shows that the New York Times show rises of use of 'robust' in a headline has doubled in the past two years:

Yes, you find robust everywhere: most robust balance sheet in history, robust menu, robust specimens, robust African-American woman, the robustness of the findings, a robust start (to baseball angst), and so on.

And travel is not exempt. Paulie Theroux dropped the R-bomb on Dutch lit of all things.

If robust is here to stay, and grow, what better way to celebrate than having a robust Christmas?

So please do.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What is 'travel writing'?

A couple days ago I noted, on Twitter, that some of the entries in the new Best American Travel Writing: 2011 aren't really travel stories.

One is a New Yorker piece on the Shinnecock reservation at the Hampton of Hamptons, Southhampton. Writer Ariel Levy talks with officials on efforts to create/block a casino that will likely further clog the Long Island Expressway.

Another (Tom Ireland's 'Famous') follows a coincidentally timed trip just after the terrorist attacks to Bombay. It dwells almost exclusively, with much evident research back home, as a profile of the lone surviving gunman.

I liked both. But just going to places that travelers go to, and asking questions and writing things down, shouldn't always qualify a piece as a 'travel story,' I'd think.

Pondering this, I tracked down this self-congratulatory essay by Paul Theroux called 'Travel Writing: The Point of It.' In it, he claims travel writing is worthy only if it predicts subsequent events (most guidebooks, by the way, are 'bloodless' to him). In that case, it can perform a 'unique function... to express a country's heart, as long as it stays away from vacations, holidays, sightseeing, and the half-truths in official handouts.' Which is kinda funny.

He's talking about his book Riding the Iron Rooster, researched in 1987, which sort of predicts the 1989 events at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. (I guess; I've not read it.) Reviewers had called it 'grumpy,' and it apparently bothered him -- enough so, he felt compelled to note, like a winning quarterback, that it sold half a million books. (Really? Pulling the whole sales:value card, huh?)

It's a good goal, I'm sure, but I hope it's not the only way travel writing works. In fact, Pico Iyer's Yangon chapter in the classic Video Nights in Kathmandu, researched just before the 1988 (failed) revolution in Burma, dwelled on students' moonwalking skills. No hint of brewing discontent.

But does that make it bad travel writing?

I think Theroux and Iyer are right to focus their writing on people -- not just officials -- but regular ol' people. Doing so can stand for a bigger picture of how a place lives and feels. And their writing tends to be 'open' to the destinations, using travel as a means of discovery. That seems key too.

But I'd like to think that technique works in places without impending revolutions too? That is, as long as you stay clear of 'sightseeing.'

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Journal: Omaha Man, 2001

I'm in the long process of digitizing a couple dozen journals put together on Lonely Planet, and other, research trips over the past decade or so. I really liked this guy, met in Omaha on my first LP assignment: updating the Great Plains chapter of the USA guidebook in the spring of 2001:
William Reeves volunteers at Omaha's Great Plains Black History Museum. He's 74, originally from Kansas City. Says he played alto and tenor sax in the late '40s down there. Another musician he knew -- a 'bully' - once hit a heckler 'with his horn,' he said. 'Then someone beat him up so bad he died.' Asked if he liked jazz today. 'Oh, sure. You just have to be where it's at, y'know? Preston Love at the Omaha Star [a 'black paper' nearby], he played horn with Basie. He'd know.' Williams says he regularly goes back to Kansas City -- 'for barbecue runs, and for funerals.'

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trying to Tumbl

I resisted its charms for awhile, but just starting to Tumbl on Tumblr. Still figuring out why. See the madness here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Travel's MVP, the Sandwich

More sandwiches. Last week, in tribute of National Sandwich Day, I shared my sandwich map, which prompted to write this: why the sandwich is travel's MVP for my column with the Daily Oklahoman.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Top 10 Travel Knock-Knock Jokes (Part 2)

We did it before: assembled an astonishing from-scratch list of Top 10 Travel Knock-Knock Jokes, and this time we're upping the ante.

1. Knock knock
Who's there?
French Guiana
French Guiana who?
French Gu-iana mad hunt for some tight-fitting jeans out here. You have any?

2. Knock knock
Who's there?
Ecuador who?
E-cuador can't even buy a pack of gum these days. Can I bum a fiver?

3. Knock knock
Who's there?
Bhutan who?
Bhutan some mustard to this sandwich! It's a bit dry!

4. Knock knock
Who's there?
Iceland who?
I-celandered your neighbor when I said his doorbell was broke. It's actually working!

5. Knock knock
Who's there?
Eurail who?
Eu-railly indecisive about opening your door. This is the fifth time I've knocked, 'bro!

6. Knock knock
Who's there?
Mediterranean who?
Med-i-terran-ean a tunnel and sure had to reverse my course mighty quick. Shouldn't a been walking on the train tracks.

7. Knock knock
Who is it, kindly?
Adriatic who?
A'driatictionary move to a knock is opening the fricking door. C'mon man!

8. Knock knock
Yes, who is, please tell?
Passport who?
Pass-portland, to the west, and you'll find excellent gold-sand beaches -- and less hipster annoyance.

9. Knock knock
Who's there?
Atlas who?
At-last! I've been knocking for hours!

10. Knock knock
Who is it?
Colorado who?
Call-a-rado surfer by his name-o, Mark Richards

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sandwich Map

Lonely Planet recently published a book on travel infographics, How to Land a Jumbo Jet. I submitted a full-on 'sandwich map,' which was supposed to make it but unfortunately fell through the cracks based on intra-continental communication techniques. Alas.

But here it is. History and lore of sandwich-making, just in time -- a day late actually -- for National Sandwich Day.

While on the subject, I also visited Sandwich and talked about sandwiches.

Here's an excerpt:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Secret to 'local travel': SPORTS

Several years ago in Guatemala, a couple shirtless sweating guys were hanging from a fence shaking their fist at me: the lone foreigner in the crowd. And that was a good thing.

Here's my column for Oklahoma City's Daily Oklahoman on why going to sporting events -- pro, amateur, high school -- is a great way to 'get local.'

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween in Transylvania

Everyone wants to scare you on Halloween, I want to make you feel safe and secure. Here's a 76-Second Travel Show episode from two years ago that tells how.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Full Mounthe: My Days as a RCMP Cadet

A few months ago the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - Depot Division (Regina, Saskatchewan) invited me to spend a couple nights and a (full) day training as a "mountie." It's a rare opportunity. Apparently only five civilians before me had had the chance -- and I was apparently the only one to get a regulation moustache.

This Lonely Planet video sums up the misunderstood Canadian icon. It's no longer just blokes in red serge jackets, Stetson hats atop horses. The red serge, in face, is rarely worn -- only for occasions like graduation -- and horses were phased out of training in 1966.

At first glimpse, in the mess hall with Troop 5 (the most junior of the troops there), I had to ask one cadet, 'Do you ever look around and say, wow, I'm here with a bunch of COPS?' He admitted he did.

I certainly felt that way waking up at 4am to prep for the morning parade.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not-for-Parents on Fox News Live

Must admit it's kinda nice to be back in my regular role as US Travel Editor in New York after five on/off weeks crossing Canada to create web videos. I appeared on Fox News Live yesterday to discuss Lonely Planet's new 'Not for Parents' series of books -- sort of a comic/history/pop cultural/travel book on New York, London, Paris and Rome. And, yes, I did manage to squeeze in a Texas swipe.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vancouver Video Notes

I'm crossing Canada to create a video series of Canadian cities for Lonely Planet and Canadian Tourism Commission, and focus on a 'local' version of the city. A few things that didn't make the quick two-day shoot include the following:

Vancouver's a sports town that go well beyond last year's Stanley Cup losers. I saw a Whitecaps soccer game AND a BC Lions football game:

Wharf-side fish-and-chips at Go Fish, a short walk from Granville Island, is 'the best fish and chips in the world,' a local pal told me. I agreed.

In 'City of Glass,' Vancouverite writer Douglas Coupland claimed anyone will 'gasp' by taking a spin at the revolving restaurant atop the Landmark in West End. Food was surprisingly good, and the next table had two mullets.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I went to Sandwich! I went to Sandwich!

The oldest town in Cape Cod, Massachusetts is Sandwich. I've wanted to go for a long time -- even before talking about sandwiches at Brooklyn's Adult Education series. And, finally, I went to Sandwich last week. For 60 full minutes.

Some notes.

1) It's quite pretty. Even charming.

2) I had a sandwich. It was a ham-and-swiss with honey mustard. Not bad.

3) Elvis used the Church of Christ, founded in 1638, for his 1967 gospel album 'How Great Thou Art.' They keep a copy in their foyer if you want to see it.

4) I wish all sandwich citizens could have a Barbara Walling.

5) It is a very bad idea to abandon a duck in Sandwich.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Going to Canada

Tomorrow I head on a three-city visit to Canada: Toronto, Montreal and St John's in Newfoundland. It's part of a series of seven videos of seven Canadian cities and how one can 'experience a place like a local.'

It's far from my first time there (that would be age nine to Alberta; above). But to prep, I've been reading books like mad. Canadian books. Getting distracted on tangents like, hey, 'what is Canada?'

A lot of people think of Canada as just this:

But it's not the subject most Canadian authors seem to dwell on. 'Canada' -- as a nation, an identity, a concept -- is much more confusing. The question has a history.

The country's relationship with the US and Europe weighs heavy. In the 1943 book Unknown Country, Bruce Hutchinson tries to explain his nation for an American audience. He calls it a 'dual personality - not fully formed' but touts its name -- an Iroquoian word for 'village' (that for the world's second-largest country!) -- as 'wondrous and sweet': Canada!

He writes, 'The very word is like a boy's shout in the springtime!' I love that.

Karen Connelly, meanwhile, says of Canada in her book Touch the Dragon, that much remains unanswered. 'Even the name is a question.' (Can a da? Get it?)

Some define Canada by its niceness. Apparently a woman found with amnesia in California was taken for a Canadian simply by how incredibly nice she was (turns out she was from Edmonton). And in Moose Jaw Beauty Secrets, Albertan author Will Ferguson notes how the Trans-Canadian Highway marks each end as 'Mile Zero': 'two separate (but equal!) Mile Zeros.' Negotiation is nice.

Most of these books seem to begin their survey with Quebec. Canada seems ever fascinated with its relationship with, what some call, the ROC ('Rest of Canada') -- something made fun of by Why I Hate Canadians author Will Ferguson.

The Great Canada Novel -- Hugh MacLennan's wonderful Two Solitudes from 1945 -- takes on both sides of English/French-Canadian Montreal. In it, he calls Canada 'a large red splash on the map... still raw' and proclaims, 'if this sprawling half-continent has a heart, here it is.' In Quebec.

It's perhaps interesting to note that the Great Canada Novel is not currently in print in the USA.

Rather than join the discussion, yet, maybe I'll just shout that next spring.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Talking Oklahoma on Amateur Traveler

When Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler asks if you want to talk about Oklahoma, you ask 'how high?' It was a pleasure to record this podcast:

Amateur Traveler Episode 295 - Travel to Oklahoma with Robert Reid from Lonely Planet

For more Oklahoma, here's my Top 22 list for Lonely Planet.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm in a Brochure!

it's the AMERICAN dream

Something remarkable has happened.

A few years ago I flirted with the idea of restaging the Battle of Brooklyn, the obscure (but huge) battle of the Revolutionary War that sent scampy colonials running for the Bronx via Manhattan -- a huge, potential war-ending victory for the British before the war really got started.

The problem is, someone already was 'restaging' it, more or less, at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. So I went. (Read about it here.)

This week is 'Battle Wedk' in Brooklyn, with a host of events linked with the battle. I happened to grab a brochure today, and noticed something shocking: I'M IN IT.

Check it out:

See the guy in the background? NO ONE but me wears green shorts like that. And the reenactor in question is someone I talked to too (footage also made this video). Here's my photo of the same bloke:

Getting accidentally included in a brochure due to bad photo-cropping skills? Check that off my list. So no matter what happens next, I got that going for me.

For more on Battle Week, go to

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Like Atlantic City

Recently, my pal Paul Brady called Atlantic City a place that's 'hard to love.' I get that. During a short visit last year for Lonely Planet, I didn't exactly fall in love with Atlantic City either, but I got plenty out of my 35 hours of tracking down the source of all the Monopoly board properties.

Here's a video of the experience:

Using Monopoly as a 'guidebook' to AC, and it wasn't always easy to do, led me away from the casinos into a place where I found local-lifers in love with their home. It led me to used bookstores, old pizza places, lighthouses. The hunt for the Electric Company, actually a modern complex outside the center, almost felt like tracking down a buried treasure.

And also, I had fun.

To be honest, I could live happily if I never made it back to AC (though I felt a night at the Irish Pub was a time-travel experience, unlike anything I've had anywhere in the USA). But by searching out a pre-Trumpian era of AC, and meeting up with those who do love it, made me see it differently.

Sometimes I think that's the main thing travel is for.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

76-Second Travel Show: 'Boley, Oklahoma'

Boley! I never knew about Boley for years, not until going back home after 10 years as an expat Okie in places like New York, London, Melbourne and Saigon. I wrote more on Boley for Lonely Planet.

Meanwhile, this happened:

That's right, Lonely Planet is leading with Oklahoma. (And my article on Oklahoma's Top 22.) It's a very unusual week. In all the right ways.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Iceland's Penis Museum

Mr Penis -- Sigurdur Hjartarson, curator of Iceland's Phallological Museum -- is retiring. But the museum will go on! Read about my recent visit on Lonely Planet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What are the travel dreams of Iron Maiden?

Last month I flew with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, who's flying for Iceland Express this summer (amidst a busy Maiden tour -- the guy's got energy). Much more happened than can be packed into a three-minute video -- him joking with the Icelandic crew, paying off his co-pilot $1 for a nice comment, whisking me past security, watching TSA agents asking when Maiden's playing New York next, getting on the Reykjavik tarmac to admire the Iron Maiden's Ed Force One from below.

Check out my full Q&A on Lonely Planet.

Thanks to Bruce. And my pals in Tulsa's Bozack for the soundtrack.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top 2 Civil War Things to Do

The Civil War is 150, which means four years of particularly robust re-enactments and a lot of new Civil War books. Even a CD or two.

Here are two things I recommend doing to tribute the occasion:


Do you know this 1986 documentary? At nearly three hours, it's way too long, but simply impossible to stop looking at once you start.

A heart-broken, deadpan-hilarious film-maker Ross McElwee (mostly behind the camera) wants to retrace the tragic figure of William Sherman on his (in)famous rampage through the South, a region he had loved and spent much time before the war. But McElwee's girlfriend dumps him after McElwee gets the film grant, so he ends up loosely following Sherman, while mostly flirting from behind the camera with a string of mesmerizingly bizarre southern women (a rocker, a 'prophet' actress, a Mormon, a hermit).

It is more a glimpse of '1981 South' -- when it was filmed -- than a Civil War doc. (The New York Times even called it a 'timely memoir of the '80s' in 1986!) Plus Burt Reynolds makes an unplanned cameo.


I made this two years ago at Gettysburg, and still await the answer on how Civil War re-enactors decide who dies first.

If pressed, I'd have to admit no one really knows.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Favorite Bathroom Door (Male Category)

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, why? Why do we travel? Part of the reason -- a big part -- is to track down the best bathroom door in the world. So far, this one from Churchill, Manitoba is the winner.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Photos: Women's World Cup '99

Some sporting events mean more than others. We're a week removed from Japan's "heal a nation" upset win over the USA in the Women's World Cup. Much of the conversation around the game compared the American "girls of '11" with the famed "girls of '99," who -- by the way -- won their gold medal in penalty kicks medal after 120 minutes of a scoreless game against a (slightly more threatening) China team.

I happened to be there -- at the biggest, most important women's sporting event of all time. A sold-out Rose Bowl, a captivated nation, and President Bill Clinton eating chili dogs in the press box.

Here are a few photos. Note: the last one is the moment the Americans one, taken -- if you squint -- a moment before Brandi Chastain tears off her jersey.