Monthly Archives: February 2010

Cool Tools: The Bathroom Diaries

The Bathroom Diaries (www.thebathroomdiaries.com) is really more amusing than useful, because I don’t know if it will really be reliable when nature calls and you don’t have a phone or computer with you in whatever part of the world to reference the site. It lists and rates nearly 9,000 bathrooms throughout the US and 3,000 international ones. It is also user-generated, so people can  post information about various bathrooms. For example, I suggested the Waldorf Astoria hotel as the best public bathroom in all of Manhattan. Each toilet is in a private room with a sink, so you can enjoy a little luxury while using the facilities.

Probably the best use of this web site is to help you plan ahead, especially if you have small children. In foreign countries, finding a restroom can be a challenge, so whether or not the restroom is “good” or “bad” doesn’t really matter at that point. Just having one around is enough. This site can point you to any number of facilities in the area to keep in mind.

There is also the “Golden Plunger” award for the best bathroom.  This one pictured is in the shoji Tabuchi Theatre in Branson, Mo.

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Now Boarding: Monday Hat News- American charges for blankets!

Happy Monday everyone! Here’s the latest in travel news.

American Airlines is charging for BLANKETS and PILLOWS – at a whopping $8 a blanket/pillow set on domestic flights and flights to/from Mexico and Canada. Those questionably clean (even though sealed in plastic), staticky nappy blankets and bunchy little pillows that everyone fights over that American has realized its demand and put a price on it. Yes, it’s a conspiracy. The plane is air-conditioned to a chilling 60 degrees, forcing people to hand over $8, earning that one flight up to $1,500+. And to carry your own blanket takes up half your carry-on, and then you have to check your baggage for $25/ first piece. Granted, you’ll get to keep your $8 inflatable neck pillow and fleece blanket, which is a deal compared to what’s sold at retailers, but you’ll still have to carry them onto each flight and be dinged for the extra load. But don’t fear, I’m sure hundreds of entrepreneurs and companies (Brookstone – I have my eye on you) will be coming out with their own lightweight, folds-into-a-matchbox blanket-pillow set to challenge this latest charge.

On a more exciting front with American, the airline is now opening a non-stop route between Chicago and Beijing.

Southwest’s newest route, non-stop between Philadelphia and Boston’s Logan to start this June, has caused shuttle fares on other airlines to drop by 90 percent. US Airways is one of the popular choices for this commuter route, and travel is expected to shoot up between the two airports as a result of the price drop.

In other Southwest news, overweight actor-director-writer Kevin Smith was removed from a Southwest flight because he violated the airline’s “too fat to fly” policy. Individuals of a certain size (those who cannot put the armrest down) are required to purchase two tickets so they do not encroach his/her neighbor who paid for an entire seat. The producer of Clerks, Dogma, Chasing Amy and other film hits had purchased two seats, but then flew standby and was given one ticket/ one seat. As a result, he was asked to leave the flight, which he caused a great scene and Southwest gave him a $100 voucher which he turned down.

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Cool Tools: SpottedByLocals.com

If you’re sitting in your office, grimacing that you’re in the office, even though you might have spent the past week grimacing at home because you were  hunkered down there during the blizzards (or maybe you were just grimacing in your office while the rest of us grimaced at home), here’s a great way to check out what’s going on in, say, Europe.

SpottedByLocals.com is a Dutch site (in English), written by locals in Europe, about the local going-ons around their respective towns. Like “Not For Tourists” except it could be for tourists, and it’s in Europe, SpottedByLocals covers favorite Spots and categorizes them into your typical categories of restaurants, bars, arts & culture, music, shopping, theater, relaxing, etc. etc. While the content is very localized, whether it’s interesting to an out-of-towner on a time budget is questionable. However, it’s fun to peruse what’s going on in European cities and bookmark different Spots if you’re ever in that particular area. SpottedByLocals covers 23 cities, including London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Vienna, Barcelona, Athens, Madrid, Copenhagan, Lisbon and Ljubljana.

(Okay, I know I said yesterday that I was going to write about ski deals, but in reality, it’s hard to just find something that might be a deal for me because of my departing airport but not a deal for you. Plus, I’m a little overwhelmed by snow right now. There’s just so much snow everywhere and on TV and in my backyard. If you want a good tutorial on skiing, you can visit my post “I’m going skiing, somewhere, this winter” here.)

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Wanderings: Olympic fever!

No need to travel these two weeks… you can tour the world right on TV by watching the Olympics. I am personally glued to the speed of these downhill skiiers. I’m now very inspired to hit the slopes. So… stay tuned tomorrow when I search for great ski deals!

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Wanderings: If I could have planned my snow week

If you’re a travelin’ fool like me bound by three weeks vacation, you’ll understand how much it bothered me to be handed an entire week off from work with nowhere to go. Once Wednesday came around with another foot of snow, I knew I wouldn’t be required at work until Monday. We started looking at local ski mountains. I started thinking about going to New York. I wanted to substitute my snow shovel for a coconut with a straw sticking out of it and steel drums in the background on some beach.

If I could have planned my snow week with one day’s notice – say, last Thursday they said: by the way, this storm coming your way is going to shut you in for the rest of the week. What would I have done? Here’s my wish list.

Grand Canyon. I would have packed up my little Civic with our camping gear and bags of Trader Joe’s groceries and headed west, young man. I did it before in that little car and I would have tried again. Jon and I missed the Grand Canyon on our last roadtrip across the country (though I have been twice already on separate trips) and this would have been a perfect time to head out to explore, when the crowds are few. We would have hit a few other sites along the way, possibly Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, and wherever else that wouldn’t involve much snow. Four days driving roundtrip, leaving 5-6 days of exploring.

Colorado. Again, packing up the car with snowboarding gear and attempting to drive it through the snowy mountains of Colorado to experience some fresh powder. Yay! Again, four days of driving roundtrip, leaving 5-6 days of snow fun.

Hawaii. I would have hopped on a last-minute ticket flight to Hawaii, no matter how many times we had to change planes, and gone hiking through volcanoes, surfing on giant surfboards, wearing scenty leis and gotten a tan.

Paris. Flights to Europe are cheap in winter. So why not catch the next flight to one of my most favorite cities in the world? Wander through some smaller art galleries I missed last time, eat macarons, check out the latest fashions at Le Printemps, pick out some tres chic items for our house at BHV.

Dominican Republic. The country’s tourism is hurting because of Haiti’s earthquake. An ideal situation would be to sit on the beach, perhaps away from all the other tourists in Punta Cana, and maybe hike around the tropical forests, and then spend some time volunteering to help Haiti. Portions possible to write-off on taxes, too.

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Getting Lost In: Goa!

Now that I’ve been snowbound at home here in Baltimore for six days straight, the only activity outside the house I’ve had is shoveling snow, eating burgers and going to hot yoga. Though I love snow, I really do, and I love having days off from work (thank you, federal government), I think the hot yoga is leaving me a little dehydrated and perhaps hallucinating of warmer places. After listening to yoga instructors pretend to speak Hindi and be Indian because they can hold themselves upside down on two pinkies, I’ve decided to transport myself to the birthplace of hippiedom, the grand poomba of American yogism, and the great center of full-moon parties: Goa, India.

 My first experience with Goa started with my best friend, Karen. She has dark hair and very tan skin.  Her mother, equally tan and dark-maned, speaks with an exotic accent and if you ask Karen about her background, she’ll tell you she’s Canadian (which does not explain anything you’re looking for). One day I pressed her about the un-Canadian features in her family, and she told me her mother’s side was Portugese. But then her mother made a lot of tasty Indian food and left it in Karen’s freezer, because apparently her Indian grandmother made these dishes. And then I was reading my Frommers’ Guide to India and learned about how the Portugese settled in Goa, and I looked up and said “Karen… are you Goan?

Yes, so Karen is part-Goan. She says it’s complicated to explain her whole background, so she just says Portugese. And that’s the quick history of Goa: Portugese missionaries came down to convert the Indians into Catholics and build churches and breed generations of exotic-looking people. Then around the 1960’s, another exotic-looking group of people descended upon the beaches of Goa and gave it the reputation it has today – a nirvana for flower children, floursack pant-wearing stoner hippies who dred their hair and party every night, full moon or not.

Whether you’re a modern-day hippie (i.e. one with a lot of financial independence so you can spend your time backpacking around the world without a care and buy all sorts of drugs. Oh, and the hemp clothes sold at the local markets are targeted exactly for people like you, so please support the local economy and buy them) or a traveling business school student like I was, Goa is a vacation spot for all. Some highlights:

Beaches. There are many. We rented a scooter and scooted along the coast to explore; many had shack-like hotels and restaurants right on the beach. The Baga-to-Calangute area north of Panjim is a ridiculously touristy section that, even if you’re not totally looking for Nirvana, takes away from any restful experience you might have been hoping for. Skip ahead towards the beaches north of that, and the farther north you go, the more rustic and secluded it will become.

Where to stay. In high season, it’s advisable to make a reservation, but if you’re okay with abandoning your original plan and checking out other places, you can. Many beaches come with little huts for very little. We stayed in Anjuna in some $6/day hotel on the beach (I can’t remember the name now but I would not really recommend it) that gave us our own little one-room, two-bed house with one bedsheet each but a full bathroom, even if it came with a frog and a giant cockroach. Though the room did not give me much sleep, the beachview balcony and menu of Indian-or-Chinese food did.

Old Goa. For some history and culture, check out Old Goa inland. It’s muggier and hot, but you can find refuge inside a cool stone church, which was my theory on how the Portugese managed to convert so many Indians (“we offer you our Lord and air conditioning”). Old Goa is a World Heritage site and a good walking tour of old churches and conversion sites from the 1500’s. In the Basilica of Bom, you can view the preserved body of Saint Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa.

Shopping. The Global Village market in Anjuna on Wednesdays sells great souvenirs and take-home items, but be warned that many of the same items (claimed to be hand-made in Goa) can be found in other markets around India and even in markets in Europe and South America. Haggle hard. Be aware of extremely aggressive women and young girls who will grab you and force you to look at their items for sale, though it’s okay to say no and walk away after looking at them.

Activities. People-watching is especially fun, from the man-in-tatters doing exercises on the beach to the European tourists who think they’ve turned Indian. Cow-watching is just as fun – they enjoy the beach as much as tourists do. If you must, there are yoga centers around the area, but don’t be surprised if classes cost the same as they do back home and are run by blond women from London or California. Eat delicious seafood in banana leaves and drink fruity lassi (shakes); be aware that during full moon parties, the “Magic lassi” contains items that are not necessarily yogurt and fruit. Full moon parties occur all the time on Anjuna, with drugged-out European backpackers swinging their dreds and braided hair to rave music all night long.

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My Travel Hats is on Snow Day!

The federal government declared a snow day, and so will My Travel Hats as we attempt to dig out our car from the unplowed streets of Baltimore. Three feet of snow = flights cancelled, Amtrak cancelled, basically all travel of any kind involving the mid-Atlantic region from Philadelphia to Richmond was nonexistent. If you’re in the area, you’ve now figured out that states below the Mason-Dixon line have no idea how to handle snow and don’t have enough snowplows, salt or sand or money allocated to handling more than, like, 3 inches of snow for the whole season. Which is why everyone runs shrieking to the supermarkets, emptying the shelves of food (for real: this happened at Whole Foods on Thursday) and schools close even if there isn’t any snow yet but just the prospect of snow. They know: MD/DC/VA are completely unprepared to deal with this. If you’re headed in this direction, you’ll be okay on the highways (be wary of drivers – there are still lots of accidents and ice on the roads) but be forewarned that the side streets are NOT plowed and you may have to park and hike through knee-deep snow to get to your destination.

If you’re lucky and have 4-wheel drive and live in the area, you can get to some of the little mountains for some of the best skiing the region’s seen in years.

Photo: Jon as he attempts to climb out of our house through the back door in the kitchen.

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