A young woman stands on the ledge of the high building, tears welling in her eyes, shaking with fear—is she going to jump? I try to catch her eye, waving to get her attention, and finally she looks my way. Ignoring the looks of disapproval from other onlookers, I encourage her to leap.
I’m standing on an outcropping of rock at Glacier Point looking out over Yosemite National Park when the sun finally disappears over the horizon. I’ve brought my wife and eight-year-old son here, home of one of the darkest night skies in the world, to show them something they’ve never seen before with their naked eyes: a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy that we call home. Neither of them have ever really seen the stars. But they’re about to.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear Mardi Gras, I think drunken revelry and “show us yer boobs!” A driver in Trinidad once told me the ladies’ Carnival costumes could be picked up in a small envelope. In Rio, maybe just stapled to a postcard. In other words, not exactly a family event. If you want something a bit less racy but no less fun and exotic, consider getting whacked in the streets of Sicily.
“It’s time,” I whisper to my sleeping eight-year-old son. At the sound of my voice, his eyes open a crack, then go wide as he remembers our plan from the night before. Bounding out of his bed as if afraid I might change my mind, he dresses quietly and quickly so as to not waken his sleeping mother (who was unambiguous about her desire to sleep in) and together, as furtive as thieves, we slip out the door and make our escape.
Disney raised admission prices this month for all of their theme parks. While this comes as no surprise—regular increases have become the norm over the years—it’s a good reminder for families to spend a little time carefully planning their budgets for their eagerly anticipated vacations toDisneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. Most families skimp and save for their dream vacations to even make them possible at all. But by picking and choosing your moments to cut loose, you can transform a budget-minded Disney[…]
Ontario’s Stratford Festival is one of the great live theater attractions in North America, and they’re celebrating the 60th anniversary this year with yet another splendid season of theatrical excellence. The question is not whether you should go — you absolutely should — but how you should go about it. Here are some helpful hints about how to get there, where to stay when you arrive, and some interesting sights to enjoy along the way.
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 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?
This year is the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. And 40 years ago, I was a nine-year-old boy visiting the brand-new Disney World with my family. We could not afford to stay the night there. And my family could only afford to explore the new park for a single day. But we made the most of it. I remember the smell of the newly turned earth at the fringes of the entrance, the black sheen of the freshly poured[…]
My six-year-old boy just caught a fish. We’re standing where the edge of the green lawn meets the boat docks on Lake Geneva 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[…]
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[…]
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.
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[…]
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.
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[…]
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[…]
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.”
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[…]
It’s mid-September, and the Grand Teton National Park is on fire. Slender tendrils of smoke rise into the sky like the flags of an invading army laying claim to enemy territory. There are five different fires in the park the day 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 historic structures. Otherwise[…]
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[…]
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[…]
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[…]
While I do love toys –who doesn’t? — I have a confession to make: I try very hard to NOT be a gadget guy. For me, a big part of traveling is leaving behind all of those hella-cool toys so they won’t clutter my consciousness when I’m out on the road actively trying to expand it. But this was not always so. Long ago, on my very first trip abroad, the customs agent at Heathrow grilled me for nearly twenty[…]
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[…]
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[…]
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 to[…]
I’ve been field-testing the eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible bag for several months and it has quickly become my favorite bag. It’s built tough with heavy-duty zippers and seams (the areas where most soft-sided bags give out first.) It’s also extremely lightweight–less than four pounds empty–so along with the comfortable padded straps, it’s easy to carry for long periods. But my favorite feature is the absurdly large number of different compartments and pockets that cover the thing inside and out. I[…]
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[…]
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?
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[…]
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[…]
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 don’t allow your own pictures[…]
I was recently on a ship to Russia and many miles from the nearest Apple Store when I discovered to my horror that I’d left my iPhone charging cord in Helsinki. Luckily, I was saved by my NomadCard. The NomadCard is an incredibly compact, credit-card-sized USB/thunderbolt iPhone “cord” that tucks into your wallet and provides an emergency connection when you’re running low on juice. Worth every penny.
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.
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 muffled rustling[…]
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[…]
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[…]
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[…]
Now this is traveling light. The svelte ShaveTech electric razor is absolutely ideal for the road. You can shave dry, recharge it through the USB port on your computer or with an accessory electrical adaptor, and it’s the size of an iPhone. When not in use, the USB plug tucks back inside the shaver for streamlined, smartphone-size portability. It’s so discreet and lightweight, you could even carry it in a suit coat pocket and it wouldn’t put a crease in your[…]
On a trip to Spain last year, a friend gifted me with a fantastic bottle of locally grown olive oil. I would’ve loved to bring it home, but I refused as I still had fresh memories of a bottle of contraband Czech absinthe that burst and ruined my bag several years earlier. If only I’d had the Vinnibag with me. The Vinnibag is the perfect tool for transporting that rare bottle of wine, olive oil or exotic perfume home with you from[…]
My wife and I travel light. No more than one bag each, no matter the length of the trip. Having one carry-on bag each means that we’re fast and mobile, and we can scoot out of airports without waiting around the luggage carousel– and with no risk of the airline losing our bags. This typically used to mean taking only a single pair of shoes per person. And for my wife, that almost always meant taking the practical pair with her[…]
For decades, it was rare for travelers to encounter bedbugs, but they have reemerged in recent years, and have even been showing up at the finest destinations. While they are not dangerous, they are a genuine nuisance, and if you unwittingly let them hitchhike home with you from your vacation, you’ll discover that ridding your home of them can be a very expensive process costing thousands of dollars. Don’t let that happen. Bugzip offers a sturdy vinyl solution that resists[…]
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[…]
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[…]
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[…]