We all know one person who makes the yearly trek to, say, the Philadelphia Folk Festival or Burning Man. They wouldn’t miss the opportunity to pitch their tent in the Schwenksville mud or the Black Rock City dirt. It’s all about the music at Old Pool Farm or the — um — art in the Nevada desert.
However, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival in Ohio. Duct tape? Sure, it’s great for travel mishaps, such as securing a broken piece of luggage, and we’ve all used it around the house. We’ve even chuckled at the creativity of folks who fashion a wallet or dress out of the sticky stuff. But a three-day festival? Stick me to my seat! There’s even a parade that starts at the high school and ends at the cemetery. We might need a six-inch piece of the stuff to tape our mouths shut so we don’t scream.
The World’s Weirdest Museums
If celebrating duct tape is your thing, the ninth annual Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival will be held June 15 – 17 in Avon, Ohio, the home of Duck Tape brand duct tape. The Father’s Day weekend event claims to draw more than 40,000 duct tape enthusiasts, likely helped by its lack of admission or parking fees. The first 500 attendees will even receive a free roll. (We’re just a bit concerned how that roll might be used by the end of the day when festival goers get tired and cranky with each other.)
The theme this year is Duck Tape on Safari, so there will surely be liberal use of the company’s zebra- and leopard-patterned tapes on the parade floats and at the crafts table. There will be a free animal show (live animals, sans tape). And to make the festival even more irresistible, an artist will display his duct-tape portraits of Bob Dylan, Mother Teresa and other celebs. We can’t make this stuff up.
If you’re looking to add a few more quirky events to your calendar, consider these equally intriguing festivals. The SuperHero Street Fair is held in San Francisco in August. Just imagine donning your Spider-Man jammies and joining all the other boys and girls in their Batman codpieces and Super Woman bustiers. We certainly hope they secure all rooftop access doors to prevent overzealous leaping of tall buildings in a single bound.
No super powers? Visit the Gilroy Garlic Festival in nearby Gilroy, California, and you’ll be able to repel people in a single breath. Or try another natural repellent by waiting until October for the Alabama Butterbean Festival. Either may come in handy at the Great Texas Mosquito Festival in July.
16 Ways You Know You’re Addicted to Travel
How about you? Is there an annual festival you never miss? One you’ve always wanted to attend?
– written by Jodi Thompson
A few years ago, I traveled with my mother when she — and I quote — wanted to see the Grand Canyon before she died. We flew to Las Vegas, rented a car and toured the Valley of Fire and the Hoover Dam. Once at the Grand Canyon, we were able to see quite a bit of it despite my mother’s mobility constraints — and a spectacular glass-enclosed helicopter ride allowed us to view the rest. It was a wonderful trip. I’m not certain how many times I annoyed her, but I do know that I threatened to toss her off the edge of the canyon only once, so I’d call that a successful trip.
Turns out that my mom isn’t the only senior who’s got the Grand Canyon on her bucket list. “National Parks in the West” made a recent list of the top vacations for senior travelers in 2012, put together by YMT Vacations. Here’s the full top five:
4. Alaska Cruise and Train Tour
3. National Parks in the West
2. Rhine River Cruise
For all the seniors out there, do you agree with this list? What are your own must-see destinations this year (or before you die, if you tend toward the dramatic)?
For the younger set, have you ever traveled with a senior? Would you do it again? (Or are you serving time for tossing him or her over the edge of the Grand Canyon?)
Learn More About Senior Travel
– written by Jodi Thompson
When I touched down in Los Angeles for the first time, with only three days to sightsee and no car to get around, my first priority was to figure out how to make the most of my time. There’s no better way to get oriented quickly in a new place than by taking a tour — or, in my case, a couple of them.
As an L.A. virgin, I felt it was my duty to join the starstruck faithful on a two-hour Movie Stars’ Homes tour from StarLine, a well-established company that also runs double-decker sightseeing buses and a wide selection of other excursions around the city. It’s the kind of touristy-but-fun activity that’s practically a must-do for L.A. first-timers looking to snap a photo of the Hollywood Sign, wander amidst Spiderman impersonators on the Walk of Fame and gawk at opulent Beverly Hills mansions. (Get the details at StarLine.com.)
But I also wanted to try a tour that was slightly less traveled, so in the afternoon I made my way to the Larry Edmunds Bookshop, a quirky little place filled from floor to high ceiling with retro movie posters, actor autobiographies and photos of all things cinema. This was the meeting point for the Hollywood Tragical History Tour, which focuses on crime, scandal and death in the City of Angels. (See DearlyDepartedTours.com.)
Like the StarLine tour, the Tragical History excursion served up plenty of celebrity gossip (for example, both guides swung by Michael Jackson’s estate to offer an in-depth account of his demise). But I soon discovered that this tour wasn’t for the faint of heart. At one point, our guide read from a graphic police report about the “Black Dahlia,” a 22-year-old woman who was killed in gruesome fashion back in 1947. (The tour provides police photos of her body too, but after hearing the stomach-turning description I opted not to look.) They’ve also got audio of the panicked 911 call made by Joaquim Phoenix as his brother River lay dying of an overdose in front of the Viper Room nightclub. And the pit stop halfway through the tour comes at the public restroom where George Michael was arrested for soliciting a police officer.
Here are a few more favorite tidbits from the tours:
Movie Stars’ Homes: I had an immediate flashback to childhood when we stopped in front of the house featured in the sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Hollywood Tragical History: Our fast-talking guide was a font of fun (if useless) trivia. Where else would you learn that Billy Bob Thornton is afraid of clowns, bright colors and antique furniture? Or that Britney Spears once kept a 30-day loaner car for nine months and returned it with 120 cell phones in the trunk?
While there was some overlap between the two tours, I was surprised by how different the experiences actually were. If you’ve got the time on your next trip to Los Angeles, take ‘em both: there’s no better way to get the full L.A. experience, from the sublime to the seedy.
The StarLine tour is $49 per adult when prebooked online, while the Tragical History excursion will set you back $40. Don’t forget to budget an extra $10 per person for tips.
Our Favorite Los Angeles Hotels
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes by subscribing to our blog.
We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $215 per night. Greti, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.
The room pictured was Local Artist Suite 2 at the Queen Anne Bed & Breakfast in Denver, Colorado. It’s one of several suites designed by local artists (this one was the work of Tuyet Nguyen). The Queen Anne is a haven for eco-friendly travelers, with 100 percent organic cotton bedding, recycled paper products and low-flow showerheads. (Even the mattresses are sustainable, made of recycled metal coils and green tea insulation foam.) But the hotel doesn’t scrimp on perks like hot tubs, fireplaces and park views.
To check rates and read about other properties in Colorado’s capital city, see our favorite Denver Hotels.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
This weekend, I’ll be in the company of Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, Lisa Ling and thousands of other avid travelers. I’ll be checking out music and dance performances from around the world, and learning how to cook exotic dishes like Taiwanese popcorn chicken. And I’ll have the chance to win a vacation to Belize or India or even beyond.
In short, I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show — and you could be too.
Los Angeles Without a Car
What exactly is a travel show? It’s not a TV program on the Travel Channel. No, it’s a big, colorful expo featuring exhibitors from travel companies and destinations around the world. It usually includes vacation giveaways, expert panels and talks, tons of information and inspiration, and — of course — plenty of fun freebies.
The Los Angeles Times Travel Show has all of that and more, and it’s coming up this weekend. But if you can’t make it to the City of Angels, there’s probably a travel show coming to a city near you. Below is a sampling of upcoming events around the U.S. and Canada.
Chicago: Travel & Adventure Show (January 28 – 29)
Boston: Boston Globe Travel Show (February 10 – 12)
Seattle: Golf and Travel Show (February 10 -12)
San Francisco: Travel & Adventure Show (February 18 – 19)
Spokane: Golf and Travel Show (February 18 – 19)
New York: New York Times Travel Show (March 2 – 4)
Vancouver: Golf and Travel Show (March 3 – 4)
Washington D.C.: Travel & Adventure Show (March 17 – 18)
Miami: Miami Travel Show (May 4 – 6)
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, why not come on out to the show this weekend? Admission is just $10. Look for me at the Travel in Style Pavilion, where I’ll be speaking on a panel about travel and shopping. Hope to see you there!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Home of the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole is one of the best places on Planet Earth to see wildlife in winter. This is not to slight nearby Yellowstone National Park. It’s just that the “hole” that is Jackson Hole concentrates a lot of animals in a relatively small, convenient space. So on a recent day off from skiing, my wife and I tried to see how many furry critters we could spot in one day.
Because we were staying at Spring Creek Ranch, which overlooks the town of Jackson, we took a wildlife tour with Kurt Johnson, Spring Creek’s chief naturalist. Armed with a BS in wildlife biology, an MS in natural resources and a van full of optical gear, Johnson knows wildlife better than Batali knows pasta.
Before we’d even left the ranch Johnson spotted some long-eared mule deer, including a 400-pound buck. Mule deer, like many animals in cold habitats, grow larger than their cousins in more temperate areas. But there are exceptions to every rule: We also passed a northern shrike, a tiny, innocuous-looking songbird that impales its prey on thorns until they bleed to death. Tough neighborhood.
Winter Vacations Without the Skis
Our first stop was on the eastern edge of the flat, rectangular National Elk Refuge,
where about 7,000 elk spend the winter. You see extremely healthy specimens here: elk cows that weigh up to 500 pounds and bulls of almost 900 pounds. Just 100 feet from us, a bull with huge antlers picked a fight with another bull. For a minute or two they banged heads, popping rim shots we could hear over the howling wind. But then, with the females long past their September estrous period, the boys suddenly forgot why they were fighting, and resumed grazing side by side.
To the north of the elk stood a few bison, notwithstanding signs indicating that this is an elk refuge. Johnson lends his clients binoculars and a telescope so powerful that we could see vapor from the bisons’ breath. Farther to our right, on a bluff near the road, four bighorn sheep watched us warily. That 200- to 250-pound animals with NFL chests can scamper up these cliff faces is an unlikely adaptation, but that’s why it works.
In less than an hour we’d seen four large mammals on our wish list, plus trumpeter swans and adorable Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks. “Think we’ll see any carnivores?” I asked. Johnson said, “Maybe.” Good answer.
Cozy Winter Getaway Ideas
He drove us to the Gros Ventre River, where two moose waded in the frigid water. I’d watched moose wading here in summer, green water dripping from their fur, but now it had started to snow, and these moose had iceballs clinging to their coats.
Moose weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. A huge bull moose rested on a bank near us, blinking stoically as icy flakes pelted its eyes. It’s their overlapping upper lips that make moose look dim-witted, but watching one of these hump-backed creatures wait out a squall, you understand its ability to survive without mastering rocket science.
Our return route led alongside the refuge again. Suddenly, Johnson pointed to a coyote on the field. Coyotes are elusive creatures: We hear them at night near our house in Pennsylvania, and we find their scat in the morning, but they never show themselves in daylight. This one paraded right past us, offering as good a look at Canis latrans as you’ll ever get outside a zoo. It was a big one, too. “Coyotes are so large here,” said Johnson, “visitors think they’re wolves.”
A local had told us about a pack of especially ambitious coyotes that had attacked an elk a few days earlier. This coyote, though, trotted toward an elk that was already dead. Just as it got there, a bald eagle swooped down to the carcass. When the food is this good, the most unlikely companions will do lunch.
Our 10 Favorite National Parks
– written by Ed Wetschler, executive editor of Tripatini
Is it possible to get around the City of Angels without wheels? This week, I’m going to find out.
It’ll be my first trip to Los Angeles, a sprawling city so dependent on driving that it inspired the 80′s band Missing Persons to sing, “Nobody walks in L.A.”
Well, this traveler will be walking. And taking the subway. And riding a few buses too.
It’s not that I object to renting a car, especially when it’s the only way to explore a destination. But I live in the ‘burbs, and I already drive everywhere when I’m at home. So when I travel, it’s nice to get out from behind the wheel.
To make my L.A. trip work without a car, I’ve had to plan carefully. First, I’ve chosen a couple of hotels within walking distance of subway stops (one downtown, the other in Hollywood). Second, I’ve crafted my itinerary to focus on attractions that are easily accessible either via public transit or on foot from where I’m staying, like a couple of star tours out of Hollywood (which is on the Metro’s red line).
Our Favorite Los Angeles Hotels
I did have to scrap a visit to the Getty Center on Sunday afternoon because the L.A. Metro trip planner told me it would take anywhere from 150 to 180 minutes to get there from downtown by bus. Oof. On to Plan B: a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art on South Grand Avenue, which is within walking distance of my downtown hotel.
Sightseeing aside, my main reason for coming to town is to speak at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show this weekend. Admission is $10; I hope any IndependentTraveler.com readers in the area will come out and say hi!
Got advice for getting around L.A. without a car? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
When I first set foot on Key West’s Duval Street, I was greeted by eccentric shops, themed restaurants, pink taxicabs and warm, inviting sunlight. I immediately knew that I was in for a unique experience. I spent a weekend there for a bachelor party, so the itinerary wasn’t really focused on visiting the cultural parts of the town, but simply on finding some great places to get lost in the revelry.
One such place is a small, friendly bar known as Flying Monkeys Saloon. The outdoor atmosphere makes for great people watching, and the small, yet roomy space makes it easy to mingle and make new friends. And don’t forget the frozen drinks, which are some of the absolute best. These cleverly named drinks include: Grape Ape (bourbon, 151 rum and grape punch), Howler (grain alcohol, vodka and lemonade), Ruby Roo (fresh raspberries and 151 rum) and, of course, the titular Flying Monkey (a mix of the Howler and the Ruby Roo). If you find yourself in Key West, be sure to make Flying Monkeys your first stop to get the party started. However, be advised that their drinks, while exceptionally good, are also quite strong. It probably wasn’t the best idea for me to have two Flying Monkeys in a row on an empty stomach while jet lagged. But hey … it was a bachelor party.
8 Warm Weather Winter Escapes
If you’d like to get some food in your system after your arrival, Willie T’s Restaurant & Bar is an excellent spot to do so. The menu consists of American and Caribbean cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. Our time at Willie T’s was both delicious and educational, as one of my fellow travelers and I learned how to say “thank you” in Russian. (Of course, this was done solely in an effort to garner the attention of the attractive Russian waitress tending to us.) One especially fun thing about Willie T’s is the seemingly infinite amount of one-dollar bills stapled to the walls, the ceiling, the bar and even the trees. It’s customary for first-time visitors to write their names on dollar bills so they can be immortalized within the restaurant. If you decide to visit Willie T’s, make sure you find the time (and space) to leave your mark. After you’ve done that, look for a dollar bill marked “Deech” on the wall leading to the outdoor patio to bask in my glory.
While Willie T’s has a full bar with great drink selections, Irish Kevin’s is a much more appropriate place for those looking for a traditional bar scene. It usually attracts plenty a crowd with its live music, great service and all around excellent dive bar feel. There’s no food menu, so it’s best to come here for after-dinner drinks and not-for-kids entertainment.
While we enjoyed the classic bar atmosphere of Irish Kevin’s, we found ourselves yearning for something with a bit more space. This led us to a lively, laid-back spot known as El Alamo. Like many other Key West joints, El Alamo is an outdoor bar with live music and a friendly crowd. However, what sets it apart is its bevy of outdoor games, which include cornhole, beer pong and flip cup. It also serves $1 PBRs and features a pool table in its small indoor shack.
Since our time spent on Duval Street was for a bachelor party, we decided to use the next morning to end it in the manliest way possible: with a breakfast consisting of crepes and mimosas from an adorable French cafe known as Le Creperie. Here you’ll find both savory and sweet crepes, both of which are highly satisfying. I chose to go with a crepe topped with bananas, strawberries and Nutella for a sweet end to an even sweeter weekend.
What’s your favorite spot in Key West?
– written by Mike DiChiara
Long shadows flickered before me as I walked through the dank, subterranean passages of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. During my recent two-hour Historic Tour, I crouched and twisted my way through the cramped alleys of Fat Man’s Misery, checked out a massive block of rock aptly dubbed Giant’s Coffin, and faced the gaping maw known as the Bottomless Pit.
With more than 365 miles of discovered passageways, Mammoth Cave is the world’s largest cave system, and geologists believe there could be hundreds of miles yet to discover. Compared with caves I’d visited previously, Mammoth felt a little different — and not just because of its size. “It feels like walking through a big salt mine,” said my travel companion after we’d hiked more than an hour without seeing a single stalactite or hearing the trickle of water seeping down the limestone walls.
But this is a good thing, our National Park Service guide told us, at least for the future longevity of the cave. Mammoth does have some water-carved formations such as stalagmites and stalactites, but much of the cave system is actually sheltered from water by a “roof” of sandstone, which keeps it dry and protected.
Mammoth may not have the exquisitely colored formations that draw visitors to other caves, but it does have a fascinating history. Back in the 1800′s, African-American slaves were among Mammoth’s first tour guides and explorers. (Visit the cave’s Web site, NPS.gov/maca, to learn more.) I was particularly drawn to the story of Stephen Bishop, who began guiding visitors at age 17 and later was the first person to cross the Bottomless Pit and chart the previously undiscovered passageways beyond. After nearly two decades in the caves, Bishop was given his freedom — but he died the following year.
After you emerge, squinting, from the cool darkness underground, don’t forget to enjoy the other half of Mammoth’s ecosystem. Visitors can soak up some sun and fresh air on a network of wooded hiking trails.
The 10 Best National Parks
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Guam? Really? Yup, the 212-square-mile island in the Philippine Sea about midway between Japan and Hawaii is sixth on the top 10 list of U.S. states/territories most favored by overseas visitors last year. In 2010, Guam had 1.3 million overseas visitors, according to a list compiled by the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries — which defines “overseas visitors” as tourists from beyond the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Tiny Guam beat out Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas and New Jersey, numbers 7 – 10 in the list. Not surprisingly, New York took the top spot with 8.6 million foreign visitors, followed by Florida, California, Nevada and Hawaii. Makes sense. But what about Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Alaska? Nowhere to be found. Yet there sits Guam, as smack in the middle of the list as it is in the ocean.
Sure, it has year-round tropical weather, lovely beaches and hospitable people. Its Chamorro culture is a stew of Spanish, Micronesian, Asian and Western influences — a heady mix you can taste in the island’s unique cuisine. And of course you’ll also find all the water sports, golfing and hiking you’d expect on an island.
So who’s going to Guam? According to the Guam Visitors Bureau, most tourists come from nearby Japan and South Korea (each just a three- to five-hour flight away). But you can get there from the continental U.S. too — though you’ll have to spend more than half a day on a plane and make at least one connection, typically in Honolulu. Once you get there, you can relax at a big-name resort (such as the Outrigger or the Westin), or stay at a more intimate property like the Guam Garden Villa, a B&B homestay.
You can also get to Guam by cruise ship. It’s a popular port for world cruises, with Princess and P&O among the lines visiting this year.
Have you been to Guam?
– written by Jodi Thompson