Saturday, February 26, 2011

Travel Knock-Knock: Barcelona

Knock knock!
Who's there?
Barcelona who?
Barcelona? NEVER go into bars-alona.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is it OK to Blind RT?

Twitterlife can be fun, distracting, sometimes useful -- and sometimes a bit less so. I sometimes wonder how many 'blind RTs' we see popping up -- meaning RTs to links that are never looked at, just passed on because they sound promising.

So I played a trick with this tweet yesterday:

The catch is that it's a fake. There is no story, or top 20 list. Just a link to You Got Rick Rolled, the immortal tribute to pop icon Rick Astley (I like the pie chart the best).

Seventy-five people clicked on the link and saw Rick in his glory (my apologies to all, in particular to Sarah Hutton who called me out on it). At the same time I got at least nine RTs on the link without comment, which reached up to 26,276 people.

Sorry guys, but I think you got RickRolled too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

76-Second Travel Show: 'Outtakes from Garfield Assassination Replica'

Episode # 049
F E A T U R I N G * 1 4 3 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

It's been one year since the '76-Second Travel Show' probed every alley of New York to find the most worthy presidential experience to have for a president's day weekend in the Big Apple: and NAILED IT (with this).

Chester A Arthur is one of two presidents (George Washington being the other) to take the oath in Manhattan. Arthur did so because a guy called Charles Guiteau went and shot James Garfield for no apparent reason (enigmatically self-proclaiming 'I'm the stalwart of stalwarts' as he squeezed his trigger, twice).

Time hasn't been forgiving to Arthur, a man who pronounced his middle name ('Alan') with mock-French twist ('Alain'), had something like 50 pairs of paints, and frankly wasn't much of a president. But his former home, at 123 Lexington Ave in Manhattan, is now an Indian spice shop -- and you can get a 'Chester Arthur' sandwich (well, if you ask for one) upstairs in his former bedroom.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary, the 76 team held a party with a couple of the reenactors from the 0:13 replica of James Garfield's shooting (he'd die two months later -- you really might not want to know the details of exactly why he died).

We also dug up, from the 76 archives, some outtakes from the original video.

Enjoy. And remember. And definitely go eat one of those sandwiches.

The original:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Random Photo: North Dakota Postcard '01

I think we all should send a postcard in 2011. I used to more regularly. Here's one from my 2001 research trip of the US Great Plains for Lonely Planet -- sent to the LP staff in Oakland. Snippets on why the country's least-visited state deserved a longer look:
  • The proud CVB in Fargo is shaped like a grain elevator, gives free cookies and neglects to put a single attraction on its Fargo tourist map.
  • The capitol in Bismarck looks like a Stalinist school of dentistry.
  • Kev, the chef at Cowboy Cafe in Medora, - a completely round man - will sit down and talk with you for hours. Says 'dang' a lot.
  • There were more visitors at the world's largest holstein cow, at New Salem, than the state's great national park.
  • Fargo's SkyWalk looks like an outtake from a Scorpions video.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Interview: Ian Frazier on Siberia

Ian Frazier spent about 17 years researching and writing 'Travels in Siberia,' about the same time Axl Rose took for 'Chinese Democracy' -- but with better results. Frazier's fascination for the forlorn and mythic, plus his humor, has always appealed to me. When I started as a Lonely Planet author, I picked put two destinations atop my author wish-list: the US Great Plains and Siberia. Two areas he's now written full books on.

I got the chance to meet and speak with him recently, about why he spent so much time in a place people usually avoid, and what exactly his phrase 'Russia-love' means. As he puts it, everyone has 'one country' -- a place they are instinctively drawn to and can't help it. For him, it's Russia.

What's yours?

Here's my book review on 'Travels in Siberia' for Lonely Planet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Random Photo: Death of the Queens Igloo!

It's not your typical day when you look out the window and see an igloo. 'Actually it's not an igloo,' its creator, Joe Gindoff, told me. 'It's a snow house. Igloos are made of ice.' Joe, my neighbor in Jackson Heights, Queens, told me he's never built one before, but the excess snow and time to wonder -- he recently lost his job -- gave him the opportunity. 'I sat and thought about it, then went out and did it.'

Local news picked up the story after Joe spent the night in the house -- or at least till 3am (I know the feeling; I gave up on Quebec City's Ice Hotel at 2:30am recently myself).

Alas, Sunday Gindoff took a pick-axe to his creation, knocking its roof in. With temperatures set to rise this week, so have concerns from neighbors over a potential hazard in the private garden area. He understood.

The 'igloo' -- or 'NYgloo' as he called it -- has already paid dividends for him. Gindoff has been contacted to help build a 'three ton snowman' at Bear Mountain upstate. Sometimes just doing stuff -- like building an 'igloo' -- beats polishing off a new resume.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

76-Second Travel Show: 'Does Saying No Make You a Travel Wimp?'

Episode #048
F E A T U R I N G * 7 1 * B O N U S * S E C O N D S

I've jumped from Soviet aircraft, thrown lead weights at dynamite in Bogota, and even been on a horse in upstate New York. But in Quebec City, I found something I just couldn't do: a night at the Ice Hotel.

Does saying 'no' make you a travel wimp?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Random Photo(s) of the Week: Green Bay Forever

If you grow up in Oklahoma, you have to fight the urge to like the Dallas Cowboys. It happened for me, early, on a Sunday after an Oklahoma loss to Texas the day before, when I saw gloating Texas fans at a Cowboys game, playing up the TV cameras and pointing to their Longhorn gear. And I've hated the Cowboys ever since.

Who to like in the NFL then? Easy, the Green Bay Packers. A throw-back team, unabashedly wearing green-and-yellow, not owned but run by a wayward Wisconsin town of 100,000. It's practically the anti-NFL team. Plus they have a history of beating Dallas.

The last time Green Bay won a Super Bowl, I woke early -- like 3am -- to get to a Saigon sports bar playing the game live. The owner didn't understand how to throw a Super Bowl Party well, and had a cover band from the Philippines onhand to play 'Hotel California' DURING the game. Angst of bleary-eyed ex-pats encourage the band to stick with a halftime performance.

Ten years ago I visited Green Bay with friends Chip Dalby and Tom Caw. We saw Brett Favre play, Brett Favre Drive, ate brauts, threw some pre-game balls, and watched Favre failed to rally the Pack against the Chicago Bears.

Doesn't matter. Packers are the anti-Cowboys. And more.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Curling in Quebec City

Quebec City's famed Winter Carnival is underway, but I began my visit recently not at its ice sculptures, tube slides, skating rinks or 'caribou' (hot wine) stands. Instead I went straight from my hotel to the 98th Bonspiel, a curling championship held at the Jacques Cartier Curling Club. There I'd meet Serge -- wearing a tassled hat and red sweater filled with commemorative pins from past Bonspiels -- who bought me beer and chocolate, then explained some of the game.

'It's a SOCIAL event,' he said with a deep Quebecois French accent. 'If you wait, maybe you can try.'

Curling's a game that's sometimes seen with a smirk. Apparently Scottish in origin, it's only been a part of the Olympics since 1998 and is getting a bit more serious looks since last year's coverage from Vancouver's Olympics.

I'd never seen it in person. Teams were playing side by side on four 'sheets,' or lanes. They were from around Canada, and also the US and Switzerland: mostly gray haired guys, some with wool sweaters with curling themes stretched taut over front guts.

Ted, an English speaker with inoffensive bad breath from Montreal, noticed me struggling to comprehend and helped explain the strategy. 'People think it's a mistake when the first stone stops short of the house' -- or ringed target area. 'That's what you want to do: guard your house.'

I pretended to understand. On sheet one, the team with the red stones overshot the house on their first try. Ted shook his head, then turned away. He already knew they were going to lose the match. And, soon enough, they did.

Before long, Bonspiel 2011 was wrapping up, and I did get to try. Serge introduced me to Marcel, a solid Quebecois man speaking zero English and wearing a look like he might enjoy seeing a Yank fall on their face. We walked onto the coarse ice, and Marcel demonstrated twice, flawlessly, how to lean onto the ice, push off, and gently send the stone down the sheet. Usually you wear a special shoe, and a soul to glide on the ice, coarser than a skating rink. I'd be wearing my own.

I didn't fall, nor did I glide, or make much of an impact with my attempts. But back by the bar, the fellow curlers appreciated my willingness to join the club. One goateed curler from Regina, Saskatchewan -- whom I earlier had spotted high-fiving a teammate and bragging 'the last rock of mine was dead perfect, eh?' -- shared the secret: 'Years of practice, and years of after-parties. Mostly this is just social. We play to win, sure but we're friends on the ice.'

I want more friends on the ice too.

By the way, you can just show up and probably get lessons. But you may have to buy your own chocolate and beer.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Feature: '72 Moskvitch Roadtrip in Bulgaria

We all have dreams. I lived one of mine, buying and driving an old Soviet baby-blue car up/down the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. I wrote about it for the January edition of Lonely Planet magazine (here's the link to the story).

I'll post more photos soon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On the Radio: San Francisco's KGO

Saturday morning I spoke about Quebec City and the best places to go in the USA in 2011 on the super travel show on Radio KGO in San Francisco. If you're interested, my fun begins at the 27:30 mark.