Travelers Roundtable
The Abbey Resort & Avani Spa on Lake Geneva.

My six-year-old boy just caught a fish. We’re standing where the edge of the green lawn meets the boat docks at The Abbey Resort and, after only a few minutes of casting, a nervy sunfish has brazenly decided to try to make off with his bait. After a furious battle, my son reels the creature in and lifts it into the air to admire it, the first of half a dozen that we will catch that afternoon. He’s acting like he just won the lottery[…]

A magical Christmas window along Chicago's State Street in December.

Chicago has been called “the most American of American cities,” so it should come as no surprise that a Chicago Christmas offers visitors some of the most archetypically American holiday experiences to be found anywhere. From browsing the charming store windows at Macy’s to shopping your way down The Magnificent Mile to sipping cocoa or mulled wine at the Christkindlmarket on Daley Plaza to taking a regal afternoon tea under a grand, 20-foot-tall Christmas tree in a posh Michigan Avenue hotel, Chicago[…]

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Photo by Bruce Henderson.

I hope the city fathers of Roanoke, Virginia know what they have here. But I’m not certain they do. They’re building buildings, flaunting their God-given resources, and dreaming up events to make the place interesting with kite festivals, marathons, and more. They’re building out a 174,000-square-foot, kid-friendly civic center with an aquarium, a butterfly room, an interactive science museum, and a restaurant with a view. They want you to know how many nature trails they’ve got, and how many city parks[…]

©Kevin Revolinski

Thailand is underwater. That’s what people think right now with the massive flooding that seems to have been going on for months – since July, in fact. And unless you’re paying close attention, you might not notice how much more there is to see than the flood zone despite its sometimes shocking reaches. The floods started in the north when the rains came quite a bit harder this monsoon season. At that time, places such as Chiang Mai, the lovely[…]

Sea turtle wide

I am the last human being on the island. Dusk is slipping down over the menagerie behind me like a velvet curtain full of sparkling pinholes. The sea lions, the iguanas, the bird colonies take back their home, and I am the last person to board the launch for the ride back to the ship. My fellow travelers and I will talk into the night like excited school children about our amazing first day in the Galapagos Islands. I have[…]

The Trail to Taggert Lake.

The Grand Teton National Park is on fire. For two weeks in September, slender tendrils of smoke have risen into the sky here like flags planted by an invading army laying claim to enemy territory. There are five different fires in the park when I arrive; two prescribed burns to control overgrown areas, and three that occurred naturally as a result of recent lightning strikes. The forest service keeps an eye on things to ensure that the fires don’t threaten[…]

Falling into the map with Sky Knights.

  Click for audio on this topic from a WUWM broadcast below: Friday night, 7:30 p.m.: It’s time for my young son to go to bed, and we’re lying together and looking at the map app on my iPhone. “There we are,” I say, pointing to the blinking dot in the middle of the grid as the GPS shows us our current location, a tiny blue ripple lost in the patchwork puzzle of Southeastern Wisconsin. He stares, fascinated. “I want[…]

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If Jordan had a calling card in the tourism industry, it would most likely be The Treasury. The rosy-colored, rock-cut star of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra had a film career (Indiana Jones anyone?) that tickled the imaginations of moviegoers around the world and brought the archaeological park to worldwide recognition. The Treasury is, in fact, not a treasury, but likely a tomb–we don’t know for sure–built by the Nabataeans, but the real treasury of Jordan is much[…]

A Return to Frinton.

  It’s not in the trendy tourist brochures, it’s not in a Royal County, and there are no castles, stately homes or dead rock stars buried here. If you want the Last of England, though, with its tinkle of teaspoons on the morning air, perhaps you’d consider Frinton-on-Sea.

Women washing on the shore of Pichola Lake, Udaipur.

Reggie Singh, in a blazer, white shirt and old-style cravat, greets us with a billiard cue slung nonchalantly over his shoulder. Traditional jazz music is blaring out of his huge sound system. “Hello,” he booms in his educated Indian English, “So glad you could make it, would you care for a gin and tonic? Just potting a few balls.”

The Visigoth gate in Toledo, Spain at dawn.

It’s getting late and I’m lost in the winding lanes of medieval Toledo. Normally I wouldn’t mind — it’s one of my favorite cities in the world to be lost in — but I’m due back at the hotel shortly, and first I have to find an address I haven’t looked for in more than a decade.  Somewhere in this warren of weathered doors and dusty stones is my favorite place to buy Andalusian marzipan.

The Docent of the Travel Section.

I rounded the corner to the little eddy where the travel books lived at the very back of my favorite independent bookstore and came face to face with a nattily dressed old man in his late 70s. He wasn’t browsing amongst the titles; his hands were empty, and he clearly wasn’t on his way in or out of this little literary cul-de-sac stuffed with guides, maps and memoirs. He was clearly waiting. But for whom? Me?

Inside the century-old Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, Pennsylvania. All images @Matthew Christopher, AKA Abandoned America.

For quite some time, the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin, Pennsylvania were open to anyone intrepid enough to hike there. After making your way through an overgrown employee parking lot, down an embankment and back up onto an elevated railroad track, they loomed up above you in the distance like a steampunk mirage.

Chao Phraya River Bangkok

I’ve been coming to Bangkok since 2006. That year student protests disrupted a couple days of my business trip and a month later there was a nonviolent coup. I was here when Yellow Shirt protestors shut down the international airport for nine days in 2008. During the Red Shirt riots of 2010, I stayed right at the edge of the barricaded zone and rode in a taxi through the burning tire smoke of the military’s deadly, protest-ending crackdown. A devastating[…]

Washington icon

I had been living in London for a year, finishing a screenplay. I managed to wrap it up just as my visa was expiring, and needed to figure out where in the world  I was going to live next.  I had spent much of the previous 10 years living abroad—France, the Czech Republic, The Philippines and the UK — and I had a hankering to go back to the States.  But where?

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My friends and I pull over to the side of the road where a sign shows a single black line across its center: Sea Level. This real-life travel moment requires an underscore. Here we are surrounded by desert, baked hills of pale dirt and stone too bright in the midday sun to even look at without sunglasses, and yet being led to think of the other 71% of the earth’s surface that is more fish-friendly. We mark the occasion with[…]

A view from the top.

  Towering proudly over the Quetzaltenango basin in the highlands of Guatemala is nature’s perfect cone. Santa Maria, a now dormant volcano—one of thirty volcanoes in this country—can be seen from great distances in any direction, thrusting 12,375 feet into the clouds. Anything this prominent, this beautiful, simply demands to be climbed. In fact, Santa Maria is only one of many popular hikes in the highlands. The breathtaking colors and dramatic landscape are perhaps only matched by the rainbow-colors of[…]

Story and photography ©Kevin Revolinski Tip and I stood in line to get our three-day passes for Angkor National Park. Once the clock struck five, we purchased the tickets for the following day, yet we were allowed to enter the park that night, essentially for a free sunset. We hired a guide for our first day, and a driver for the rest of the trip. We stood in line with the guide, our passports, and some unnecessary passport photos in hand. “We[…]

The Cathedral of Saint Sophia, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the center of Kiev.

I come up from the subway and a sky as heavy as slate hangs over the city, reflecting in the river below, in the puddles along the brick street I’m crossing. I’ve already become anxious at the sight of old men with turned down faces, as if their relaxed expressions are permanently carved into frowns. I’m beginning to think all the movie stereotypes of former USSR countries must hold some amount of truth when I turn the corner and see[…]

A rice boat docks along a water thoroughfare feeding into Lake Vembanad near the town of Alleppy.

There’s a wonderful illogic about India that drives many mad, but is also a great part of its appeal. The printed sign outside the Kathakali dance venue summed it up; tonight’s performance, it announced, would be postponed “due to technical reasons at the end of every festival.”  Of course, it would be easy to sneer at every mistranslation, and if I tried to explain myself in Malayalam or in Hindi, I would no doubt appear quaint and bungling, but nevertheless[…]

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I don’t know where I’m going. My driver won’t reveal our destination. But he promises me I’m going to like it. The driver is one of my oldest friends, Portland native Jeffrey Neal. Jeff picked me up a few hours ago in The City of Roses, at the recommended Hotel Fifty, with an air of gleeful secrecy, and we hit the highway towards our mysterious destination. The green magnificence of Oregon rolls by as we head west towards the Pacific Ocean[…]

A footbridge over a lagoon at the Fairmont Mayakoba.

In the dream, I’m lying facedown on a broad, six-foot-long leaf while being drenched from above by a warm tropical rainstorm. The rushing water cascades off my back and pools briefly between my head and the crooks of my arms before seeping away beneath, tracing the veins of the leaf as it swirls away from me. When I went to bed in Milwaukee last night, it was two degrees. Live long enough with that kind of cold and your body[…]

Morning in Park City, Utah.

    Silence. It’s what I was hungry for all these months, though I didn’t recognize the lack of it until I was immersed in it. The quiet is startling at first, foreign to me after too much time in the city. I lean on my ski poles and take a minute to listen. There are many varieties of quiet. There are the vacant atmospheres of waiting rooms, the faintly humming vacuum of a field of empty office cubicles, the[…]

Ruins of Medina Azahara-Low Res-Rbundy (1)

It’s well over 100 degrees and the Spanish sun feels like a physical weight on my skin as I descend dusty stone steps to the skeletal ruins of Madinat al-Zahra. Though it’s difficult to believe now, this parched landscape a few miles outside of Cordoba was once a magnificent palace resplendent with thousands of fountains, an architectural marvel exquisitely decorated with jasper and marble and covered in lush greenness. The shining glory of the Umayyad Caliphate built by Abd ar-Rahman[…]

Mint chocolates and a vintage view of Chicago's El train at the JW Marriott Chicago.

  SHHHHHHH! Don’t be afraid, I’m a friend. Listen to me: They’re coming, they’re hungry, but we won’t be here when they crash the place. Don’t worry, you’re not trapped, we’re gonna get you outta here, pal. What do I know? I know more than you think. I know that a crowd of entitled and belligerent family members are getting ready to descend on your house, barking drink orders, dominating the television remote, eating all the sweet potato soufflé and[…]

The sun sets over the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Around Thanksgiving, I always recall the time my wife and I were in Istanbul near the end of the festival of Ramadan. Ramadan is a period of prayer, reflection, charity and good deeds that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During this time, Muslims fast—no food, drink or any other earthly pleasures from dawn until dusk. Once night falls and the moon rises, then the faithful take to the streets, offering food to the poor, and[…]

Feria Tale: The Rice Festival in Arles

I’m standing on the sidewalk on a bright, sunny September afternoon in the south of France. A lovely young woman dressed in late 19th century clothes walks past me, her eyes modestly averted. In one hand she holds a leash leading a baby goat, and in the other she leads a small boy who looks like a Dickensian paperboy. More people stream past, some dressed as Roman soldiers, others as medieval archers, and still others attired like Renaissance royalty. An adorable collection[…]

Carriage Rides Geneva Main St_SMALL

Among the greatest satisfactions of small town life is the savoring of simple pleasures. Sure, sometimes you want to travel to destinations that will set your pulse pounding. But often what you really need instead is to put yourself into a lower gear. Over the past twenty years, I’ve continually found that elusive, soothing, gentle pace in the small town of Geneva, Illinois. There are no world-class museums in Geneva. You’ll find no mention of the town in 100 Places to[…]

The Spirit of Detroit.

Detroit, Michigan has filed for bankruptcy. The city’s emergency manager made the decision last Thursday. So that’s that. Detroit is finished. Again.

Bon Appetite? - FRIED PIGS BLOOD

Some of us believe that to travel is to become a temporary local and that it is essential when traveling to immerse yourself in the local culture as completely as you can. And that means eating as the natives do, even if the riding gets rough. Over our many years of traveling, my wife and I have tested that philosophy and come away rewarded… and not. Here are the kinds of experiences that put either question marks or exclamation points[…]

From Anderson dock in Ephraim looking out across Green Bay to the Eagle Tower in Door Peninsula.

On a trip to London in 1998, my wife and I stayed at the home of a dear friend who had lived in London for half a century. While I had visited the old city many times, my wife had never traveled there before, and so I was taking her around the town to see a few of the world-class sites for which it is rightly famous. One morning, I informed my London-native friend that we were off to tour[…]

The Drawing room of The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island.

I was born and raised in South Carolina. Even after my family moved north in my early teens, we still returned each summer to the old gentility of Charleston, her lush gardens and cobblestone streets, and the peaceful barrier islands that nestle along the coast. I’d not been back in almost twenty years, and while I was eager to go, I also had some trepidations about it. We don’t like to think about it, but the world moves on without[…]

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    Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide, 2nd Edition by Kevin Revolinski AKA The Mad Traveler Frequent Travelers’ Roundtable contributor Kevin Revolinski has just released the eagerly awaited second edition to his invaluable Badger-state beer bible, Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide. More than 20 great new breweries that have recently opened across the state, and Kevin has answered the challenge with his new, improved and fully updated second edition that now features more than 90 breweries. And like its predecessors, Wisconsin’s Best Beer Guide still has the special offers corresponding to passport-style signatures you[…]

Sailboats idle in tranquil Mission Bay at San Diego's Paradise Point.

I’m closer to a wild Great Blue Heron than I’ve ever been in my life. It’s just across the water from me, maybe twelve feet away, standing at the base of a waterfall that empties into a shallow lagoon. While I’m watching the huge bird, it stares at the large fish moving through the clear water that separates us. Then I sense movement on my right and turn to spot another large predatory bird, this time a Black-crowned Night Heron[…]

Climbing through The City Museum in St. Louis.

I’m walking in St. Louis’ City Museum through a menagerie of beautifully crafted stone and gleaming white terracotta. Everything around me has been salvaged from venerable old buildings that fell to “progress” here. I turn a corner and see a 19th century, rough-hewn stone drinking fountain. Hand-chiseled into the front of it is an invitation to the thirsty stranger, “Come Be Refreshed.” From what we’ve seen the past two days, those three words might as well be the unofficial motto[…]

The Bridge Over the Atlantic.

On the drive between Oban and Kilmelford on the west coast of Scotland there is a sign pointing you to the Isle of Seil and the Bridge Over the Atlantic. The road is a long one. A narrow one. And built with plenty of kinks and contortions so as to maximize your chances of being killed in a head-on collision. You will drive so long that you will think you are lost. You will think I’m lying about there being[…]

All photography ©Kevin Revolinski

The radio is a constant hiss of static and occasional comments in Swahili and Steve, our driver, keeps it on but seems to ignore it as we bump along a dusty tire-track road. We stop for a herd of Cape buffalo and the five passengers in the van stand at once to shoot photos out the opened rooftop of our Toyota van. Suddenly Steve grabs the mouthpiece and replies, and without even telling us we are moving on, we are[…]

The Katrina Museum in New Orleans.

Last February, a very dear friend of mine was going through a tough time. A terrible thing happened to him, and I was frustrated by the distance that separated us, so I proposed that we meet somewhere. I wanted to offer distraction, nothing more. Hopefully someplace warm, as it was bitterly cold in both our respective cities. I suggested Las Vegas, the capital of distraction, but he demurred. New Orleans, he said. He wanted to go to New Orleans.

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