Last week the NYTimes Travel section came out with a list of 53 Place to Go in 2008 for global nomads like us. The suggestions range from the mundane to the exotic: some of these places sound awesome and some of them make you wonder what the folks in the Travel Section are smoking. Let's discuss...
MOST AWESOME SOUNDING DESTINATION: The Northwest Passage
More accessible than ever thanks to our good friend global warning, the NYTimes says that in 2008 ecotourists and adventurers can take an expedition cruise of the frozen-but-thawing North starting at $4,200.
RUNNER UP: Easter Island
Also known as Rapa Nui, this small volcanic island, lying some 2,000 miles west of Chile in the South Pacific, is one of the most isolated spots on Earth. It was given the name "Easter Island" by its first European visitor, Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen, who happened upon it on Easter Sunday. No one is sure where the native people of Rapa Nui came from, nor how the monolithic Moai statues that encircle the island were transported to their current locations. The NYTimes points out that 2008 will be a great time to visit since a new luxury resort is opening up on the island. You can take a cruise here or fly from Santiago, and they have scuba diving too.
HONORABLE MENTION: Barossa Valley, Australia
This photo alone is enough to entice me to one day visit southern Australia's wine country. And then there's the fact that this valley holds 60 vineyards and is one of the world's biggest producers of Shiraz -- one of my favorite red wines.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rimini, Italy
This small city on the Adriatic coast used to be known as a rather plebeian beach getaway. But the NYTimes says its becoming the "bling party capital" of the laidback penisula, attracting posh Romans with its all-night club scene and its designer hotels. (You know the N to the Y to the T be all about the blang blang.) Rimini is also the birthplace of Federico Fellini, and its only an hour's drive to Ravenna, the Byzantine capital of Italy known for the beautiful mosaics commissioned by the likes of Emperor Justinian (482/3-565) and King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths (454-526). Say, didn't Ada go to Rimini once on some sort of Houston/Rimini club scene goodwill tour?
HONORABLE MENTION: Hvar, Croatia
Croatia's Dalmatian coast has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. A lot of people travel to the port city of Dubrovnik on the mainland to gamble, party, beach it and buy handmade crafts. But the NYTimes says the island of Hvar is becoming the Adriatic's answer to Saint-Tropez what with its ability to attract jetsetting partiers and yachters. The travel section says that Carpe Diem on the waterfront is party central and that the Adriana hotel in the old city center is Hvar's first hotel to be a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World.
My friend and I found the private room we stayed in thusly: we got off the train at around 5PM on a Friday evening with no clue where we were going to stay. While walking down the hill in what we imagined to be the direction of the city center we were met by a middle-aged woman walking her bike up the hill. After attempting to speak to us in what I assume was Serbo Croat she said to me in Italian "Are you looking for a room? I have a private room in my house." When we got there she showed us the room, gave us a key, and briefly introduced us to her son who was studying at the University of Trieste and who spoke English. That was the last we saw of her. Also, every time we left our room we seemed to run into her aged mother in the courtyard. She told me that my looks were "negrito" like her South American nephew, that when she was a schoolgirl Istria was under Italian fascist rule, and that as a young man her father had been drafted into the Austrian army.
In my experience, Croatian food had a lot of Italian influence and the local ingredients were awesome (truffles and fresh seafood, including my favorite cuttlefish in ink sauce, good grappa too). As for the party scene: on Saturday night we somehow stumbled upon this huge rave party (attended mostly by teenagers) held in a Napoleonic era fort outside of town. Good times....
PLACES ON THE LIST I'VE ACTUALLY BEEN TOO: Munich, Germany
Beer houses, sausage, Bavarian hospitality -- what's not to like? Just try to stay clear of the fratty American tourists... Come to think of it, I much preferred our time in the Bavarian countryside. The NYTimes mentions Munich's newly opened Jewish Museum and the posh new Charles Hotel.
PLACES ON THE LIST I'VE ACTUALLY BEEN TOO: Prague, Czech Republic
The NYTimes mentions that Prague has moved beyond youth hostels, backpackers and expats with new luxury hotels: a Mandarin Oriental, a Hilton with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant (I wonder if the executive chef was on Hells Kitchen?), and a Rocco Forte hotel called the Augustine.
During our brief visit, my favorite sights were Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge (which may or may not have been featured in Mission Impossible) and the Church of Our Lady before Tyne. Oh, and there's the statue of Old King Wencelsas "from Christmas song."
On the last night we were there, we were in this pub that was going to close soon when I was befriended by this WASTED dude in the bathroom who asked me if I wanted to smoke hemp with him and his friends (apparently its legal to grow it and smoke it in the Czech Republic but not to sell it -- that's called a nonalienable good). We ended up tagging along when his friends went out to find this reggae pub in the part of the city called Prague 1. There my friend Lee met a cute Czech girl that later came to visit him in London (and I forever take credit for their meeting). I, on the other hand, ended up yacking on the street early in the AM. I'd like to return to Prague to see Kafka's grave and the cemetery where the Golem is buried and to drink some Czech absinthe.
BIGGEST WTF: Iran
Pack your burkhas, girls, because we're going to the Islamic Republic of Iran! (Did that sound like something Tyra Banks might scream in a future season of ANTM?) I would seriously love to visit the ruins of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire which was partially destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. And the Iranian people are known for the warm welcome they extend to Westerners, just ask the 15 BRITISH SAILORS THAT WERE HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAN IN MARCH/APRIL OF THIS YEAR!!!
I seriously cannot BELIEVE that the NYTimes would suggest its readers travel to Iran in the coming year. For one thing, there is an outstanding Travel Warning issued by the US Department of State telling US citizens to "carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran" and reminding the clueless that "some elements of the Iranian regime and population remain hostile to the United States" and "as a result American citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while travelling or residing in Iran." In other words, "You best step correct." The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations and our government's heavy economic sanctions restrict trade. Do the folks writing for the Travel Section even look at the front end of the paper?
The article notes how some high-end travel agencies are planning to dip their toes into the Iranian market next year, and it seems to dismiss all the serious concerns I outlined above with a flippant "What Axis of Evil?" Yes, yes, that was a stupid speech the President gave in 2002, and we all know the Bush administration is constantly feeding us lies, but I have a feeling they're telling the truth when they tell us a vacay in Iran might not be the best choice.
WTF RUNNER UP: Libya
Libya is ruled by that lovable dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, and is widely believed to be behind the 1988 downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The DoS notes that US citizens may have difficulty obtaining Libyan visas (you can't even apply in the United States, you have to do so through a third country), and that citizens with valid visas are often capriciously denied entry at the border. It also notes that people with Israeli visas or Israeli stamps on their passport are denied entry to Libya. The Travel Section basically admits all this (yet still includes Libya on the list). It also notes Qaddafi's yet-to-be-implemented plan to build a carbon-neutral luxury resort on his country's Mediterranean coast (which also boasts Greek and Roman ruins). Wow, maybe Qaddafi will be the next Al Gore.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Detroit
Proof that you don't need to travel halfway across the world in order to enjoy a crappy vacation, Detroit is often a frontrunner for such prestigious national titles as "Murder Capital" and "most dangerous city." The NYTimes mentions several new luxury hotels that have sprouted up in Motown (an MGM Grand, the Motor City Casino Hotel, the refurbished Westin Book Cadillac) and that the Detroit Institute of Art has just reopened after $158 million worth of renovations. Hmm, there's also a Motown Historical Museum. Doing a little research on the internet I guess this berg, known as Motown and Detroit Rock City, still has a lively music scene (the White Stripes are originally from Detroit). Who knows, maybe Detroit is fixing to cast aside its association with urban decay and to become someplace people actually visit (comparable to say Philadelphia or Baltimore).
TONIGHT'S BEER OF CHOICE: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
The following photos were found on the NYTimes website: "Trekking in Nunavut Territory" (c) Grant Dixon/Lonely Planet Images, Easter Island photo taken by Tomas Munita for NYTimes, aerial view of Barossa Valley comes from the Hess Collection, Persepolis photo taken by Greg Von Doersten for the NYTimes. Photo of Hvar (c) www.hvarinfo.com.