It’s that time of the week! Catch up on all the great travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.
Walking the Great Wall’s Wild Side
This engaging story from the Alaska Airlines blog details a hiking adventure along an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China. Along the way the writer befriends three local women and tests his own bravery in the face of narrow paths and precipitous ledges.
Air Emergencies: Are Airlines Telling You What You Need to Know?
Canada’s CBC News reports that many airline safety briefings leave out a key bit of information that could save your life in a crash. A safety researcher quoted in the article says that using the brace position (in which you stabilize your body by bending over with your head against the seat in front of you) can “reduce severity of injuries” and “reduce deaths.” The position is illustrated on the safety card in your seatback pocket but often not mentioned in safety videos or live demonstrations by flight attendants.
How Scientists Are ‘Hacking’ the Body to Override Jet Lag
Could flashing lights help cure jet lag? That’s the latest from Conde Nast Traveler, which reports on a new study that tested short flashes of light administered 10 seconds apart while study participants were sleeping. This treatment is believed to help the brain acclimate more quickly to time changes.
A Robot Butler Is Replacing Humans in Some California Hotels
The next time you ring the front desk staff to ask if they have a spare toothbrush, you might find the real-life equivalent of R2-D2 bringing it to your door. Business Insider reports on a growing trend of robots in hotels, with about a dozen properties now employing them in California.
This week’s video features droolworthy footage from the Norwegian fjords, where a dedicated young guitarist hauled his instrument up to a few of the region’s most spectacular overlooks.
Here’s another edition of our favorite travel stories of the week. (If you missed the first edition last week, you can check it out here.)
Fodor’s Stands with Paris
In this moving post, the editor-in-chief of Fodor’s explains why she isn’t planning to cancel her holiday trip to Paris next month, even after the recent terrorist attacks.
No More International Roaming Charges? Here’s How
Conde Nast Traveler offers good news for travelers who like to stay connected: Verizon is now allowing customers to pay between $2 and $10 per day to use their phones abroad the same way they do in the United States, without worrying about expensive roaming charges. (The article also includes suggestions for those who use different cell phone carriers.)
Transparent Airplane Walls May Be in Air Travel’s Not-So-Distant Future
Fortune reports that Airbus is planning some revolutionary changes to the in-flight experience, including transparent airplane walls that will give new meaning to the phrase “window seat.” (If you’re afraid of heights, you’ll be able to use an opaque hologram to block the view.) Other potential changes: seats that adjust to your body size and themed “zones” where you can play games or interact with other passengers.
Starwood Devotees Greet Marriott Merger With Dread and Anger
Marriott International announced Monday that it will acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts (which includes Sheraton, W, Le Meriden, Westin and several other chains). In this piece from the New York Times, frequent Starwood guests express their concerns about what will happen to their loyalty points and whether or not they’ll continue to enjoy the personalized service they’re used to after the merger.
Finally, have a laugh at this video of an Irishman on vacation in Las Vegas, who didn’t quite understand which way to point the GoPro camera he borrowed from his son. Instead of capturing the sights around town, he ended up filming his own face all over Sin City. Here’s the footage, spliced together (with a little musical embellishment) by his son Evan:
Thanks to the strengthening U.S. dollar and the weakening euro, trips across the pond are getting more affordable — which has many of us daydreaming about sipping espressos in Italy or listening to traditional music at a pub in Ireland. But which European cities are the biggest draw?
HomeAway, a vacation rental site listing homes and apartments around the world, recently answered that question for us. The company delved into its search data to find out which European cities generated the most vacation rental inquiries from Americans between July and September 2015. The winner: Paris, followed closely by Amsterdam.
HomeAway examined the booking preferences in nine different major metro areas around the United States, identifying the top two most requested European destinations in each. Paris was the top choice in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Seattle, while Amsterdam won out in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Rome was another popular pick, appearing second on the lists for three different U.S. markets (San Francisco, D.C. and Chicago).
There were a few outliers as well; New Yorkers and Philadelphians showed interest in Italy’s Amalfi Coast, while folks in Los Angeles, perhaps sick of all that sunshine, were hankering for a trip to Dublin.
It’s impossible to know for sure why certain destinations are more popular in some areas than others, but we suspect that the availability of affordable flights plays a role. For example, Boston’s number one pick was Reykjavik, and both Icelandair and WOW Air offer cheap nonstop flights there from Beantown. (Bostonians, take note: We found an incredible $374 roundtrip fare from WOW Air for an off-peak itinerary next month. Northern lights, anyone?)
Flights aside, it’s not hard to explain the popularity of Paris and Amsterdam, especially for vacation rentals. Imagine setting forth from your flat in Montmartre to pick up a freshly baked croissant from the patisserie on the corner, or parking your bike on your balcony after a day riding along Amsterdam’s canals. Yes, please!
Check out HomeAway’s full list of popular cities below — and tell us which European destination you’d most like to visit.
New York Metro Area
2. Amalfi Coast
Boston Metro Area
Los Angeles Metro Area
San Francisco Metro Area
Washington D.C. Metro Area
Chicago Metro Area
Philadelphia Metro Area
1. Amalfi Coast
Dallas/Fort Worth Metro Area
Paris is known for many charms: fresh-baked croissants, sidewalk cafes, winding cobblestone lanes — and an iconic, low-rise skyline punctuated by the Eiffel Tower. This could change soon, however, as the city’s building height restriction was recently abolished, and construction on a new, 590-foot office tower could begin as soon as next year, reports CNN.
The project is known as the Tour Triangle, or Triangle Tower, designed by Herzog & de Meuron (the architecture firm behind the unique Bird’s Nest stadium used in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, recently tweeted a photo of the proposed building:
According to CNN, supporters of the project argue that the tower will provide much-needed office space and jobs, and raise the city’s profile in the eyes of international investors. But others aren’t convinced. A spokesperson from a local group called the Collective against the Triangle Tower tells CNN, “Tour triangle disrespects the existing place and Paris skyline. We are convinced that contemporary architecture can express itself in harmony with existing place. It is not the case with this isolated skyscraper which is 180 meters high and 150 meters wide.” Beyond aesthetics, the group has spoken out against the tower’s environmental impact as well.
More worrisome to those hoping to preserve the current architectural landscape is the precedent that the new tower could set; CNN reports that a dozen other skyscrapers are in the works in Paris, even though 62 percent of Parisians are opposed to such buildings. The Triangle Tower will likely be challenged in court.
Do you support the building of skyscrapers in Paris?
If you could pick one city in the world to live in for just one year where would it be?
Not surprisingly, when we asked this on IndependentTraveler.com’s Facebook page, we ended up with a fascinatingly eclectic list of cities located all over the world. But a few cities were a bit more popular than others.
Paris, for instance, rocked the list with 14 out of 65 poll respondents selecting the City of Lights as the number one city they’d love to explore for a year. Other cities in France that got a mention included Honfleur and Lyon.
London also ranked high on the list with six people selecting British capital as the place they’d like to spend a year. But London wasn’t the only U.K. city to see some love. Edinburgh got three votes and the small coastal town of Lyme Regis in West Dorset also got a vote, specifically for “all those fossils!”
Today is Valentine’s Day, and travel sites will be filling your inbox with lists of romantic hotels and destinations. All will feature wonderful things for couples to do together, and dreamy suites with large bathtubs — including some shaped like hearts and filled with Champagne and chocolates.
But isn’t all of that a little … cliche? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to get an e-mail for Valentine’s Day recommending that you and your loved one visit the Parisian catacombs or tour a historic prison? We think so. We’ve put together a list of four destinations to visit that wouldn’t normally be associated with Valentine’s Day.
Feel free to add your own to the list!
The Parisian Catacombs: A romantic hangout for the “Twilight”-loving crowd it might be, but for most of us the 18th-century catacombs located beneath the streets of Paris are a bit creepy. Still, what better place to be if you want an excuse to cuddle really close to your loved one?
Alcatraz: Also referred to as “The Rock” (hmm, that seems appropriate for Valentine’s Day, actually), Alcatraz is a small island in San Francisco that housed an infamous federal prison from 1934 to 1963. Couples looking for an illicit thrill can give each other a peck on the lips in the (reportedly haunted) cell in which Al Capone once lived.
Verona, Italy: Actually not an unromantic destination at all, Verona is a city located in northeast Italy with an artistic heritage and Roman ruins. Alas, Verona also is known as the place Romeo and Juliet met their doomed end.
Intercourse, Pennsylvania: A rather appropriately named town for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? This quaint tourist town in Amish Country was used during the filming of the Harrison Ford movie “Witness.” Visitors can check out the local crafts, take a buggy ride or visit the Quilt Museum.
There are certainly reasons to avoid leaf peeping in its usual incarnation. You could easily overdose on quaintness while choosing the plumpest pumpkin or dearest antique. If you shy away from scores of children wielding candied apples while running wild through cornstalk mazes, you may want to skip the season altogether. Understood.
But you’d be missing some glorious sights, whether you go simply for the visual treat or allow the colors to enhance a trip with an entirely non-related agenda. Don’t allow the scarecrows to chase you away. Indulge. Here are some places we wouldn’t mind visiting during the autumn months. We may even enjoy a crisp apple or some pumpkin ice cream along the way.
Take the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway up the Hotake Mountains, near Nagano, Japan. From both the double-decker gondolas and the observation deck, you’ll enjoy a glorious view.
Explore the monasteries of Echmiadzin, Armenia. Perhaps sight a few khachkars, outdoor stone slabs carved with detailed motifs, which can still be found although many have been destroyed.
Drive the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway through the beautiful Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. This National Scenic Byway, which runs through Virginia and North Carolina, is bordered with deciduous trees, such as oak, dogwood, hickory, buckeye and ash.
Skip Paris in the springtime and visit in autumn. The fall foliage in Jardin du Luxembourg easily rivals its colorful May blooms.
For more lovely landscapes in autumn, don’t miss the Butchart Gardens, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. You’ll find a serenity impossible to locate in a corn maze.
What exactly are “rude” countries and “rude” cities?
I’ll tell you what they are: Places that travel Web sites and publications routinely turn to in order to get people talking (and, uh, clearly it works).
A few weeks ago, Skyscanner — a Web site that compares rates on different airlines — announced that its users had deemed France the world’s rudest country, with Russia taking the second spot. (The United States was No. 6.) By default, that apparently makes Paris the world’s rudest city. And in January, Travel + Leisure magazine announced its readers’ picks for America’s rudest cities, with New York taking the top “prize.” Slots two through through five went to Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston.
I’ve been to all of these cities, and I’ll be darned if I can tell which one is ruder than the other. I’ve seen heroic acts of kindness in the Big Apple, and while you can’t take the French out of the French, I’ve never felt particularly ill at ease while tromping near the Arc de Triomphe. Washington D.C.? Having lived there for nearly two decades, I always considered the place ridiculously pleasant.
Rudeness is most definitely in the eyes of the beholder, and no doubt travelers have a different take on things than those who live in these bastions of ill manners. I had a former boss who insisted that the only way to avoid rudeness in places like Paris, New York and London (Skyscanner deems the British the third-rudest nationality) was to blend in with the locals, and I always thought was a terrible idea. Why? Because the natives can sniff out posers immediately, and they’ll turn on you.
Instead, I’ve found that being polite myself begets politeness in others. Dressing appropriately (sorry, no flip-flops in Notre Dame) and adhering to local customs goes a long way toward endearing you to the locals. Learning a bit of the native language puts others at ease and shows that you’re at least trying. And by all means, if you bumble into New York thinking that everyone is going to be rude to you … you’ll probably leave thinking they were.
I think Jacques the taxi driver knew what my problem was. What my problem still is, really. I’m a big coward. Adventures are fun — I like them — but in the beginning of a trip I just want to get where I’m going, have something to eat, perhaps have a shower. After that, exploring is fine.
Jacques knew this because we’d chosen to get into his taxi instead of using the Metro like the other one billion people in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. That would have cost us about seven euros, taken 20 minutes and been way too easy.
Jacques knew that the only reason we got into his taxi was that we thought it was going to be easier.
His was the first taxi in line outside the airport. He looked just like Lou Reed, so we decided that we could probably trust him. He leaped out from behind the wheel and helped us with our bags.
After driving for about 10 minutes, joining a busy flyover of traffic, it occurred to me to tell him where we were actually going. “Sure!” he said, winding down his window to indicate with his hand. “We’ll go there now.”
We got to talking. This was a good thing.
“All this on the left,” he said, pointing out of the window, “is the old town. This motorway is like a big wall. Everything inside it is old Paris, historical Paris, and everything outside it is new. Most of the people live outside the motorway. That’s how it is.”
He pointed out of the other side of the car at a formation of shiny skyscrapers. They looked as if they were in need of a clean. “See those?” he said. “The rock climber Alain Robert climbed up those in the 90’s. He did it with his bare hands and no ropes or anything.”
I looked at the buildings. They were outside the motorway.
“And when he finished,” the taxi driver grumbled, “they took him down off the roof and drove him straight to court.” He shook his head.
Farther into town, Jacques (as we’d learned was his name) decided to drive around the Arc de Triomphe five times to show us how easily he could do it. “I don’t understand why people are so afraid!” he shouted over his shoulder as the tires squealed and the meter clicked up a couple of digits.
We passed a swish-looking hotel on the Place de la Concorde. It had balconies and footmen and little potted plants. Jacques took a moment to tell us that this was where the President of France had spent his first night after being elected.
“With,” he growled accusingly, turning around in his seat to look at us, “a woman that was not his wife…”
After unnecessarily prolonging our route even further so that he could shout at the Eiffel Tower — “Go on! Try it! It’s good luck! In Paris, we call her the fat lady!” — we arrived at our hotel. The fare was enormous — the price of a nice meal for two.
“That’s what it is,” Jacques shrugged when I expressed my surprise. He looked even more like Lou Reed than he had at the airport.
Have you ever argued with a Lou Reed look-alike taxi driver over a colossal fare obviously inflated by a ridiculously lengthened route that included backtracking, deviations, extra tangents and oddly recurring streets, not to mention five times round the Arc de Triomphe?
Neither have I. Jacques had me down from the start. I am a coward.
It was a great way to see the city, no doubt. I actually enjoyed it far more than I would have enjoyed the Metro. But, I realized after shelling out nearly all of the notes in my wallet, it was definitely one of the more expensive guided tours I’ve ever been on.
Have you ever been taken for a ride while traveling?