2017 NATJA Gold and Bronze Award Winning Articles on AnnCavittFisher.com

Yesterday, The North American Travel Journalist Association announced its 2017 Award Winners for excellence in Travel Journalism.

I am very honored to have been awarded a Gold Award in Travel Series, Online Publication for my three article series on Zambia, a Bronze Award in Cruises, Online Publication for Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship, and then also placed as a Finalist in Travel Series, Online Publication for my series on the road trip to New Mexico.

Yesterday, The North American Travel Journalist Association announced its 2017 Award Winners for excellence in Travel Journalism.

I am very honored to have been awarded a Gold Award in Travel Series, Online Publication for my three article series on Zambia, a Bronze Award in Cruises, Online Publication for Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship, and then also placed as a Finalist in Travel Series, Online Publication for my series on the road trip to New Mexico.


Gold Award, Travel Series Online: my series on our safari in Zambia

A three part series covering our safari in Zambia. My daughter Catherine had just graduated from high school, and we joined my sister for a trip of a life time — our first safari in Africa. My two favorite posts cover our walking safari, an experience I can hardly wait to repeat.

Our African Safari in Zambia

So, you want to go on safari in Africa. But where?

To say that the continent is vast is a gross understatement. Africa holds more than 20 percent of the Earth’s total land mass. How we chose Zambia and a description of the beginning of our safari. Link to Our African Safari in Zambia.

 

In her hills and hollows, in her wrinkles, perhaps . . . there is the topography of the whole earth. African Elephant. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Walking Safari: Day One

We walked single-file out of the Camp Tena Tena just after dawn on a Sunday morning.

There were six of us. In the lead, Chris carried the rifle, followed by Braston our guide. I came next, then my daughter, Catherine, my sister Carolyn, and finally Bishod, guide in training.

To walk the savannah, down, up and over empty oxbow lakes, and then step into the cool shade of a grove of ebony — it’s like that. You feel Africa close. Link to Safari: Day One.

Hippo Highways: Day Two of our Walking Safari

After a light breakfast and some coffee, we left for our second day of walking.

Why do three women from Texas love Hippo Highways? Because in Africa, even flat isn’t flat! Link to Hippo Highways.

 

 


Bronze Award, Cruises Online: my article on the Atlantic crossing on Star Flyer

 

Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship

And so it begins . . . I am on Star Flyer as she heads out into the Atlantic making for Barbados and winter in the Caribbean.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a tall ship is the stuff of dreams. Rope and cable thrumming in the breeze, the crack of a sail filling with wind: these are sounds old in human time — these sounds lie deep within our collective consciousness. Link to Crossing the Atlantic on a Tall Ship.

 


Finalist, Travel Series Online: my series on road tripping in New Mexico

A series on a road trip from the coastal plains of Texas to Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch, a discussion of Route 66 and the great American Road Trip, meeting a quirky old man in Santa Fe, losing my heart at Ghost Ranch, and discovering Georgia O’Keefe.

Road Trip to New Mexico

One of my best friends is living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for several months to complete a project — and I thought, what a perfect excuse for a road trip! “I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” — Jack Kerouac, On the Road. Link to Road Trip to New Mexico.

Embracing Santa Fe

Each time I return to New Mexico, my affection for this state grows . . .

Doc looked like he came straight out of central casting. Film order: we need a quirky old man to play a part in a Coen brothers film set it Santa Fe. Link to Embracing Santa Fe.

 

Ghost Ranch

In the great wide open places, I can see the forever. The sky enfolds you, and then you are inside it. Whatever small place you came from is no more because you are part of that sky and the big beyond, and the rest isn’t important.

When the Spanish first rode into this valley in northern New Mexico, they called it Piedre Lumbre — the shining stone. Link to Ghost Ranch.

Dublin Guys’ Getaway Weekend

Whether you’re a party type, a history buff, a nature enthusiast, whiskey connoisseur, or simply want to check Ireland off the bucket list, just about everyone wants to see Dublin. A list of stops for the perfect guys’ weekend.

Offaly and Westmeath play in the Leinster football championship. Croke Park, Dublin
Gaelic Football. Offaly and Westmeath play in the Leinster football championship. Croke Park, Dublin. Photograph, Eoghan McNally — Shutterstock.

After six years living in Dublin, I’ve had to come to grips with one undeniable truth.  Whether you’re a party type, a history buff, a nature enthusiast, a whiskey connoisseur, or simply want to check Ireland off the bucket list, just about everyone wants to see Dublin.  And tiny Dublin is well able to meet your needs.

But, for a group of guys (“lads” in local parlance) looking to get away for a few days of male camaraderie and bonding, the Irish capital is particularly well suited to the task.

With a compact downtown that’s easily reached from the airport and boasts hotels in every price range, hundreds of bars/pubs and restaurants, whiskey shops, sports venues, and great steaks (minus the steakhouse prices), Dublin has it all.  But the wealth of choices can be a bit daunting.

What follows is one American ex-pat’s highly subjective (but, of course, 100% spot on) list of stops for the “perfect” guys’ weekend in Dublin. And I’ve included a few stops where you lads can pick up something for that special someone back at home.

Kevin and Howlin. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman

Kevin & Howlin (Wool and tweeds) Acting under the assumption that you’ll want to look the part of an Irishman (or know someone at home who might), this is the go-to spot for flat caps, tweed vests and jackets, and wool scarves that are easy to pack and make great gifts.
31 Nassau Street (www.kevinandhowlin.com)

Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin.
Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Celtic Whiskey Shop (Wine and Spirits) This shop is, hands down, Dublin’s best (and most convenient) shop for everyone from whiskey aficionados to the whiskey curious.  Yes, it’s in a tourist district, but the selection is so extensive, and the prices so good, that it’s the preferred whiskey stockist for locals.  Bottles on offer include not just the full range of Irish whiskeys, but a deep selection of Scotch whisky as well.

The Celtic Whiskey salespeople are not pushy, offer regular tastings, good advice, and will ship your purchases home (though it’s expensive unless you’re shipping in quantity).  The Celtic Whiskey Shop also has an entire wall of sample (airline-sized) whiskey bottles, so you can put together a selection of your favorites rather than buying full bottles.  And for the wine lovers in your party, the other half of their name is “Wines on the Green”.
27-28 Dawson Street (http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com

Whiskey tasting in the Celtic Whiskey Shop
Whiskey tasting in the Celtic Whiskey Shop. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.

Peterson of Dublin (Tobacconists) – If you’ve left home without cigars for the weekend, or fancy a classic pipe to compliment your new flat cap, Peterson of Dublin has been supplying Dublin with pipes, cigars, and all things tobacco since 1865.

Peterson of Dublin. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.
Peterson of Dublin. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.
Cuban cigars in Peterson's humidor. Photograph, Glenn .Kaufman
Cuban cigars in Peterson’s humidor. Photograph, Glenn .Kaufman

In addition to a wall full of pipes (their signature product), and a wide selection of their own branded tobacco, tools, pouches, lighters, and sage advice, they have a walk-in humidor of Cuba’s best. Yes, you heard correctly.  If you’re from the U.S.A, this is Ireland, where there are no trade restrictions, so Peterson’s humidor specializes in Cuban cigars.
48-49 Nassau Street (www.peterson.ie)

Gaelic Football. Offaly and Westmeath play in the Leinster football championship. Croke Park, Dublin. Photograph, Eoghan McNally — Shutterstock.

Croke Park (Sports) –  If you and your mates fancy a match while you’re in town, then “Croker” is the place to go.  It’s Dublin’s premiere stadium, the third largest in Europe, and the home of GAA (the Gaelic Athletic Association, which promotes traditional Irish sports).  Under the GAA banner, the stadium hosts Gaelic football and hurling matches.  It’s also possible to catch soccer (football) and rugby matches. And, in keeping with its involvement and promotion of indigenous sports, Croke Park is also home to the GAA Museum, a fascinating repository of all things Irish sports.
Jones’ Rd, Drumcondra (www.crokepark.ie) (www.gaa.ie)

Steak and chips at the Larder.

The Larder (Steaks, Wine, and Other Good Food) – The Larder is a local favorite for steaks, seafood, and a fresh twist on ‘classic Irish’ fare, Centrally located, but off the beaten path, you’d never hear of it unless a “local” told you about it (you’re welcome).

Prices are reasonable, and the Irish beef (always a good bet) is top notch.  As it’s a fairly small room, it’s best to make reservations in advance (always good advice in Dublin). 8 Parliament Street www.thelarder.ie01-633-3581

Dublin Writers Museum (History & Literature) In a city and country known for its writers, the Dublin Writers Museum is a great place to learn the history of town and country through the lens of its creative class.  The museum is also located just across the street from the Garden of remembrance, a memorial to all those who lost their lives in the struggle for Irish independence.18 Parnell Square North(http://www.dublin.info/writers-museum/)

Avoca (Irish Products and Gifts) – Also located near Nassau Street (Peterson’s, Celtic Whiskey Shop, etc.) Avoca is a sprawling emporium of wool and gifts (Irish and other).
11-13 Suffolk Street (www.avoca.com)

Dublin Pub. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.
Dublin Pub. Photograph, Glenn Kaufman.

Pubs – I’ve deliberately avoided pubs on this list.  There’s plenty online about Dublin’s several thousand pubs, and, frankly, labeling any one as “the best” or “the perfect Irish Pub” is like labeling the best “air”.

That said, you should visit your first pub in Ireland/Dublin armed with a bit of the lingo:

Cider – Hard cider.  A fermented (sparkling) drink made from apples, and generally on the sweet side.  “Dry” cider will be less sweet, while “medium” cider can almost be too sweet.

Crisps – In Ireland potato chips are referred to as “crisps”.  And in pubs, the preferred type is usually salt & vinegar, cheese & onion, or Pringles.

Chips – In Ireland, French fries are “chips”, and are usually thick cut (chunky), as opposed to the thin cut (skinny) chips.

A Glass – A half pint.  In Ireland, you’ll generally get a pint of beer or cider unless you ask for “a glass of Guinness,” etc.

Toastie – A hot ham and cheese sandwich, often made in toaster behind bar. This may well be the only food available in the pub.

Whether you’re a group of old friends or a group who’ve come together from different worlds (to celebrate a buddy’s wedding, etc.), Dublin offers a wide range of things for you to see, do, bond over, and places to buy gifts for the missus.

If you like good food, drink, sports, history, cigars, tobacco, or perhaps always fancied one of those caps John Wayne wore in ‘The Quiet Man,” Dublin is where you ought to go.

Cheers,
Glenn K.

Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne in The Quiet Man.

Glenn Kaufmann

Glenn Kaufmann is a freelance travel, food, and film journalist based in Dublin, Ireland.  As a child of the American South, he has a weakness for buttermilk biscuits.  As an escapee from Los Angeles, he has a love for seeing beaches and deserts in the same day. And, now, in Ireland, he’s developed a fondness for whiskey (and a collection to match).

Postcards: a Windstar Wind Surf Cruise in the Caribbean

A gallery of photographs from a Windstar cruise on the Wind Surf Yacht: the Yachtsman’s Caribbean itinerary out of St. Maarten.

Photographs from my cruise on Windstar’s Wind Surf. What a lovely itinerary! We embarked in St. Maarten, then dropped anchor in Falmouth, Antigua. Afterwards, we went on to the British Virgin Islands for short hops to Soper’s Hole on Tortola, Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke, and then to Virgin Gorda. Our final stop was Gustavia in St. Barths before returning to St. Maarten.

How is St. Maarten post hurricane? Both airports are operational and over 60 flights a day are landing on the island. According to a New York Times article published on February 2, 2018, “300 hotel rooms are currently available to book on the island’s French side; before Irma, that number was 1,700. At least 10 more hotels are scheduled to reopen before the end of the year.”

The article continues, “On the Dutch side of the island, around 80 percent of the restaurants are open, and 1,600 hotel rooms are available to book; before the hurricane, 4,115 rooms were available.” Full article here: St Martin Starts a Comeback.

If you look at Windstar’s itineraries, they are sailing to many ports the Caribbean, out of Barbados, San Juan, Puerto Rico, — but will return to St. Maarten in December 2018.

I thoroughly enjoyed this small ship cruise — which is SO different from being on the large cruise lines. You’ll find a full review of the Windstar Cruise here: A Wind Surf Cruise: The Yachtsman’s Caribbean.

What a beautiful part of the world this is!

 

Find a full review of the Wind Surf cruise here:


 

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A Night at the Met: an After Hours Visit with Michelangelo

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people! A review of an after hours VIP visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Michelangelo exhibit.

Metropolitan Museum facade at night during the Michelangelo exhibit
My After Hours visit to the Michelangelo exhibit: very special! Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people!

Michelangelo's sketch of Masaccio's fresco Expulsion from the Garden displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Michelangelo’s sketch of Masaccio’s fresco Expulsion from the Garden. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Met show, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, contains over 200 works of art by Michelangelo and his colleagues (133 drawings by the master himself), including chalk drawings, paintings, and works of charcoal on paper, along with bronze and marble sculptures.

The exhibit was eight years in the making. The exhibition’s curator, Carmen C. Bambach, started with a tour to Europe to visit the different works under consideration, and once a list was developed — then came the arduous process of soliciting the artwork.

Many of the drawings are rarely seen at all, and certainly not together. On the left is a very early sketch — the young Michelangelo’s Study of Adam and Eve after The Expulsion from the Garden fresco by Masaccio. It’s fascinating to see drawings from this period in the artist’s life.

In an interview with Artsy, Bambach said, “This is a drawing that hardly anybody has seen in the original other than the specialists,” says Bambach. “Though it’s housed in the Louvre’s collection, it is rarely seen. Having that very powerful drawing in red chalk and in the company of all [other] late 15th-century works…is really a first,” she says.

The exhibit is an extraordinary opportunity to see Michelangelo’s evolution from a young artist into a sculptor, then into a painter, and finally into an architect, through works of art that have never been displayed together at one time. Sadly, the exhibit runs only three months . . . and the clock is ticking: the end is coming quickly. It closes February 12, 2018.

In late January, about three weeks before the exhibit is set to close, The Met announced that over 500,000 people had already visited Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.

This is, of course, the problem.

My daughter Catherine went to see the exhibit in the fall, and although she was there when the museum opened, the Michelangelo exhibit was quickly swamped. It’s hard to feel a personal relationship with a work of art when you’re standing eight people deep trying to look at the same drawing.

And the crowds aren’t just for the Michelangelo exhibit. According to the New York Times, over the last 13 years attendance at the Met has soared from 4.7 million to over 7 million annual visitors.

Entrance to displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Entrance to the Michelangelo Exhibit. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

One of the most beautiful rooms in the exhibit was the space devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The illuminated copy of the ceiling in a 1:4 scale is displayed along with the master’s sketches of many of the figures in the fresco.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As our world becomes more crowded, and more people travel, personal and quiet access to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the things I value most highly, and that I am willing to pay to have.

Second to last room in the displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
In an increasingly crowded world, access and quiet may be our greatest luxuries. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A closing photograph from the Michelangelo exhibit, the Young Archer.

If you are not going to get to see the exhibit before it closes, consider getting the catalogue, which is one of the finest I’ve ever seen: you can find it here in the Met shop online.

Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information about my After Hours viewing

Wonderful story about two children who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum. As an adult, I STILL love this book! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The ticket I purchased through Viator granted access to both the Michelangelo and Hockney exhibits. I arrived twenty minutes ahead of my 6:00 admission, and entered the museum at a street level door at 81st Street, an area reserved for groups. They checked the After Hours ticket holders off the list, and whisked us up in two elevators.

We walked through a couple of rooms on the way to the Hockney and Michelangelo exhibits. No, you can’t just go rambling through the museum! All side rooms were cordoned off.

I have to admit, I was having twitchy feelings about sneaking away and trying to spend the night at the Met 🙂 . If you’ve ever had a desire to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you haven’t read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it’s wonderful.

Empty Rodin gallery on my way to A Night at the Met with the Michelangelo exhibit
I passed through several galleries on the way to the Michelangelo exhibit. Here is the empty Rodin gallery that I enjoyed looking around on my way out of the museum.

The night I went, there were three entry times to choose from: 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 pm. At each entry time, according to what I read, entry was limited to 150 people over the whole evening — staggered out fifty at a time, so that not everyone entered at once.

After Hours Viewings at the Met  — Availability for this will come and go. The After Hours viewing nights of the Michelangelo show are finished, but look for them to happen from time to time for exhibits that are particularly popular and crowded.

Viator VIP Empty Met  Regularly available: a 1.5 hour tour before the Met opens to the public. Note, you will be with a guide for the tour, but then you can stay for as long as you like, and see anything you like on your own, once the museum opens.

Viator VIP: Mornings at MoMa  A similar tour is available at the Museum of Modern Art.

Other Tips for Visiting the Met

While the strategies listed below may not work as well for special exhibits like Michelangelo, the entire Metropolitan Museum is SO HUGE that you can definitely have a quieter experience without paying a premium price:

  • Go on the weekdays, not the weekend. A no-brainer, right?
  • Go early, or stay late –Be there when the museum opens, or choose to visit one of the several nights each week that the museum is open late. Check out the Met’s hours.
  • Become a Met member . . . did you know that there are special early hours and evenings, only for members of the Met? Check out the schedule for upcoming members-only hours and events.
  • Try a concert — yes, you will have to pay extra for these, but there are always interesting performances happening at the Met and the Cloisters that allow you experience them in an entirely different way.
  • Dine at the Met. Somehow, there’s something pretty special about wine, food, and art. Take a look at the different eating and drinking venues at the Met on Fifth Avenue.
  • And really all of this means — do your homework. If visiting this amazing museum is an important part of your visit to NYC, look at the Met calendar as you are planning your trip!

Disclaimer: While I paid to take this tour, I do have an affiliate relationship with Viator, which means that if you book through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you, my reader. I use Viator’s services — and I particularly love the VIP access to museums, which I’ll be buying again. I never recommend things that I don’t love, believe in, and do. Thank you for your support! It makes this my work and this web site possible.

Additional info: I first found Viator VIP experiences when I was in Rome a couple of years ago. My friend Joyce had never been to Italy, and we had to do all of the crowded Roman sights. Since we were going to be there in the summer, I started doing research to find ways to see the Colosseum and the Vatican without lines — and without dying of heat.

The VIP experiences I have had with Viator in Rome have been very special: Breakfast at the Vatican, and Night Tour of the Coliseum with a rooftop dinner, both so good I did them twice: once with Joyce, and then the following year when my sister and I were in Rome. You can read about those here — Rome: Beating the Crowds.

News and Tips from the 2018 New York Times Travel Show, Part One

I’ve just visited the 2018 New York Times Travel Show: a review of information, tips, and trends for travel in 2018.

I spent my weekend at The New York Times Travel Show — which was celebrating its 15th anniversary. This was my second visit to the NYT show; I attend to listen to and to network with top travel bloggers, PR professionals, and other people in the travel industry, and to learn more about trends in travel.

New York Times Travel Show exhibit: Getting a hug from Soohorang, the mascot of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, is a white tiger -- the guardian animal of South Korea.
Getting a hug from Soohorang, the mascot of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, is a white tiger — the guardian animal of South Korea.

The show lasts three days: Friday is always industry only, but as a travel blogger, it is my industry now 🙂 . Then Friday and Saturday are for the general public: the trade show with more that 560 exhibitors and 170 countries represented, seminars, book signings, and cultural presentations of dance, music, and food.

I’ll be sharing some of the things I learned in a two-part series, since there is so much information, a single article simply won’t hold it all!

The Frugal Traveler with Lucas Peterson

Lucas Peterson writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times — giving tips for traveling on a tight budget. He arrived late for his session, with a funny story about relying on public transportation in New York.

Peterson is an entertaining and humorous speaker, and the 45 minutes we did have with him was well worth the time.

Lucas Peterson, who writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Lucas Peterson, who writes the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

“I am the Frugal Traveler, not the Luxurious Traveler. But — It’s not about a race to the bottom! I’m not looking to find the worst hostel in Paraguay to sleep on a dirt floor and be miserable. It’s about getting the best experience possible for the least amount of money.”

He went on to say that frugal travel frequently gives travelers more rewarding experiences. Americans often use “money like a body guard.” While it may insulate you from bad experiences, it also insulates you from the culture and the opportunity to have authentic interactions in the country.

When you are trying to save money on a trip, lodging is the big key — prices vary greatly, experiences vary greatly. The Internet has democratized getting the best airfare out there, so the place you stand to save the most money is with where you choose to stay.

Where does Peterson stay? A combination of hotels, Airbnb rooms, and the occasional hostel — though fewer of those than in the past.

On the subject of hostels, Peterson said, “I don’t do the bunk bed thing where there are six to ten people in a single room. What I like to do is to get a private room. These are often only $18-$20 a night.” You get privacy, but you also get access to the common room where you have an opportunity to meet other travelers.

Airbnb? Peterson said that many of the complaints about the company are justified — because “it wrecks the rental market in some cities because many owners aren’t doing it the way it was intended.” This happens when companies buy up whole sets of homes and apartments and run a rental business, rather than it being an owner leasing their own apartment, or a room in their home. When Peterson does Airbnb, he likes to rent a room in a house, which ensures he isn’t supporting the kind of behavior he described. He particularly loves renting rooms from retired couples because they have more time to spend with him, and they often show him around their city or town.

Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building
Trend: with foreign travel to the USA down by more than 4%, travel in the US should be a good deal in 2018. Photo by Brian Sugden on Unsplash

Travel Trends

What does Peterson see as the biggest travel trends? Travel today is all about experiences: cooking classes in someone’s home; learning to surf with a professional in Malibu. Experiential travel has been trending strongly over the last few years, and he only sees it becoming a stronger part of the travel market. Peterson’s favorite sites to find experiences:

The other big trend Peterson discussed: overseas travel to the United States is down by more than 4% over this last year. Regardless of what your politics are, Peterson said, Trump’s policies on immigration have had an impact on how other nations view the U.S. in its friendliness is towards foreign visitors.

The upside for American travelers? Travel in our country should be a good deal in 2018, so if you are brainstorming where you might like to travel, consider things like our own National Parks, or a trip to one of our amazing cities, like NYC.

Biggest Travel Myths

Myth One: “There is secret to getting upgraded on a flight. Every click-bait article that says there is, well, there isn’t. It’s not that it never happens, and you can always ask for an upgrade, and hey — you might get upgraded from Cattle Car to Cattle Car Plus, but there is no secret method. You get it by having status with your airline.”

Free upgrades happen less than ever before, and when they do happen, it’s generally to elite members of their loyalty programs. New Flash: Airlines don’t like to give things away.

Peterson quoted stats from Delta saying that the company used to sell only 14% of first class seats just a few years ago, while it now sells almost 70% of them. Often this happens when they offer to sell those seats to passengers who booked the main cabin — perhaps in an email, or as the person is checking in online. Tip: you can often purchase an upgrade at this point for less than if you bought that Premium Economy or First Class at the outset.

Delta flight leaves Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.
Delta flight leaves Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Photograph, iStock Photos.

Myth Two: “If you buy your ticket at 4:38 in the morning during a full moon, it’s going to be magically less . . . .  No. No, it’s not true. It doesn’t matter when you buy your ticket, but it does make a difference which days you  choose to travel.” Know the high season, low season, and shoulder season. The key to getting the best price is being flexible (Note, Pauline Frommer contradicted this in her talk the second day of the show — will report her findings in the next article in this series on the NYT Travel Show).

Lucas’s favorite sites to search for airfares are listed below, and of course he recommends setting alerts on these sites so you know when a flight price drops:

One of my favorite things that Peterson said in his seminar: If you have even a modest disposable income right now, you can afford to travel.

He gave an example of a friend who he was trying to get to go with him on a trip. “Oh, I just don’t have any money for that,” she said. He pointed at the sunglasses perched on top of her head . . . “How much did those cost?” — $300.

It’s a priority. What do you want to spend your money on?

Peterson talked generally about OTA’s (online travel agent sites, like Expedia). While you may think there are many competitors, there aren’t. Expedia owns: Travelocity, Orbitz, Trivago, Home Away, VRBO, Hotels.com, Hotwire, and Egencia. Priceline owns: Booking.com, Kayak, Agoda, CheapFlights, Rentalcars.com, Momondo, and Open Table. Trip Advisor owns: Airfarewatchdog, Booking Buddy, Viator, Holiday Watchdog, Jetsetter, and GateGuru.

Peterson’s top reasons to use OTA’s:

  • easy-to-use interface,
  • one stop shopping,
  • the ability to shop across multiple airlines and hotel chains with only one log-in and password
  • reward systems with points that you can use at many hotel brands

His top reasons to avoid OTA’s:

Peterson ended his talk pretty quickly as he ran out of time, since he’s gotten a late start. His final points had to do with credit cards, but I didn’t see any new or interesting information here. I find the Points Guy to be the most knowledgeable source for comparing cards, points, and a person’s travel needs and habits.

So — I leave you with an overview video from the NYT Trade Show hall:

 

Never heard of the New York Times Travel Show? It’s hit its fifteenth year, and I’ve learned so much both years I attended, that I’ll be back in 2019.

Wondering whether there are similar travel shows in your area? You might try the Travel Adventure Show Expos that take place in 8 different cities around the country, starting on February 10, 2018, and the last one finishes on March 17, 2018.

 

Darkest Hour: Visiting the Churchill War Rooms

A visit to the Churchill War Rooms in London: photographs and history of this famous underground complex where Winston Churchill directed the war.

Darkest Hour: The statue of Winston Churchill looks towards the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Photograph
Darkest Hour: The statue of Winston Churchill looks towards the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Photograph, iStock Photos.

You haven’t seen home in 3 days, and the thing is . . . you aren’t sure your home is actually still there. The bombing has been relentless for nights. One of the reports you read indicates one hit very, very close to your street.

Recently, you whole existence seems to be defined by a warren of passageways and rooms just a few feet below the ground. You’ve been awake for 18 hours now, and you’ll be spending another night in the dormitory here. The mad clatter of typing gets suddenly louder as someone opens a door.

The air, heavy with cigarette smoke, is stale in other ways that have become normal: a combination of food smells lingering from supper a couple of hours ago, and a tinge of the latrine that never seems to quite go away. But he’s here — you’re sure of it. There’s the unmistakable odor of a cigar somewhere close. And that always means the PM is nearby . . .

I visited the Churchill War Rooms when I was last in London. I had planned to write about the War Rooms later this spring, but after seeing Darkest Hour yesterday — I can think of little else. It immediately took me back to my exploration of the underground complex where the leaders of the British Government directed WWII.

It doesn’t take much to imagine yourself on staff and part of this extraordinary period in history.

The London Milkman, 1940
The London Milkman, 1940. The British government censored photographs of Luftwaffe bombing to prevent the Germans from knowing how the British countermeasures were working. This was a staged photograph, designed to say to both the British AND the Germans that English daily life continued — despite the best efforts of the Nazis to destroy their spirit.

Yes. We all think we understand how horrific the bombing of Britain was, but the gulf between an academic understanding, and a personal knowledge is vast. Look at the map below showing the sites of all the bombs dropped between October 7, 1940, and June 6, 1941.

Chilling, isn’t it?

There is something about the visual — all of those pins, all of those bombs, so thick at this zoom level that they all simply merge together in a massive red lump. The brilliance of this project is that on the Bomb Site Project, you can zoom in to the detail of each, single bomb strike, street by street, and bring up information and pictures.

Map from the Bomb Sight Project
“The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941. Previously available only by viewing in the Reading Room at The National Archives, Bomb Sight is making the maps available to citizen researchers, academics and students. They will be able to explore where the bombs fell and to discover memories and photographs from the period.” — from the Bomb Sight Project

As the 1930’s progressed and the situation in Europe deteriorated, many in the British government thought that having an alternative meeting site, protected from potential bombing, was imperative. But indeed, with budget cuts and a habit of continually putting the project off, there nearly wasn’t an underground war room. While the idea had been under discussion for some years, going back to 1933 when Hitler left the League of Nations, nothing had been done.

On March 12, 1938, German troops entered Austria to force its incorporation into the Nazi state. At this time, the British government “planned” to include an underground war room in the basement of a building that was to be constructed and completed in, perhaps,  four years time.

On March 16, 1938, Colonel Hastings Ismay (Deputy Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence) felt sure hostilities were imminent, and there was no time to wait for new construction. He had available basement spaces surveyed, and by May 31, 1938, identified the basements under the New Public Offices (now the Treasury) on Great George Street as the ones best suited to their needs.

The intention was for this to be a temporary underground headquarters until something better could be built. Ismay assigned Brigadier Leslie Hollis to manage the conversion of the space into the central nervous system for a war-time government, and it was full steam ahead.

Hitler reviews troops in Prague after annexation of the Sudetenland.
Hitler reviews troops in Prague after annexation of the Sudetenland.

In September 1938, as Hitler threatened to annex Czechoslovakia, Ismay rushed into outfitting a ventilation system and reinforcing the ceilings of the basement rooms.

Then came the Munich Agreement: on September 30, 1938, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy reached an agreement that permitted German annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia.

While this agreement did little else beneficial, it bought time for the War Room project to be improved to the point it could actually be used. It took much of 1939 to convert what Hollis called ‘the hole in the ground’ to the set of facilities we see today. The first test meeting held in the War Rooms came on October 21, 1939.

May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Just a few days later, he went down into the underground complex to look at the Cabinet Room. The moment was later described by Brigadier Leslie Hollis:

As he looked around the empty room, the poignancy if the moment touched him. No one could say what the news would be within the hour, whether or not England was even then under her first invasion in a thousand years. The little group stood for a moment in silence under the humming fans, each thinking his own thoughts, and then Mr. Churchill took his cigar out of his mouth and pointed at the homely wooden chair at the head of the table. ‘This is the room from which I’ll direct the war,’ he said slowly.

Winston Churchill in the Map Room, July 1945, with and Captain RP Pim next to him.
Winston Churchill in the Map Room, July 1945, with and Captain RP Pim next to him.

The Main Corridor

Main Corridor in the War Rooms in London
Main Corridor in the War Rooms.
Weather Indicator in the Churchill War Rooms letting people know what things were like above ground.
Weather Indicator letting people know what things were like above ground.

What’s the weather like outside? You certainly don’t know if you’ve been below ground for any length of time. Check your handy weather indicator sign to the left — Fine and Warm today! And that’s a good thing isn’t it? Did you know that if it says “Windy” that’s a euphemism for heavy bombing in progress!

War Cabinet Room in the Churchill War Rooms
War Cabinet Room. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Cabinet Room

The War Cabinet met every day, sometimes twice a day, depending current circumstances.

“The morning meeting invariably starts with reports by the Services on the military situation, and by the Foreign Secretary on political developments.” — General Ismay

War Cabinet Room in the Churchill War Rooms in London
Another view of the War Cabinet Room. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Imperial War Museum chose to preserve the Cabinet Room the way it would have looked just before a meeting on October 15, 1940, when bombs had caused significant damage to 10 Downing Street the night before — an event that finally persuaded Churchill to meet regularly in the underground War Rooms.

Note the layout of the seating.

Churchill would have been seated in front of the map where his red dispatch box is, and the cabinet members in the other seats around the outside of the square.

The seats in the inside of the square? The hot seats, where heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Force would sit directly across from the PM to be grilled.

How would you feel staring eyeball to eyeball with Winston Churchill?

Map Room

One week before the war began, the first team of officers took their seats in the Map Room. As the central nervous system of all war planning the Map Room was never empty. Shifts of staff worked round the clock for six years . . . until the war was over and the entire War Room complex closed and locked.

The Map Room looks as it did at the end of the war, reflecting Allied positions in the hours before Japan’s surrender.

The Map Room in the underground War Rooms in London
Churchill’s favorite room in the underground facility? The map room. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Churchill’s Room

Churchill's private room in the underground complex. Across the room is his desk where he delivered several addresses to the nation on the BBC.
Churchill’s private room in the underground complex. Across the room is his desk where he delivered several addresses to the nation on the BBC. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Just next to the map room, you’ll find Churchill’s private room. While he spent only a handful of nights in his underground bedroom, he regularly used the room as an office before or after meetings with the War Cabinet. Churchill also took a number of his famous afternoon naps here. Additionally, four of his BBC broadcasts were made from the desk in this room.

You’ll find photographs of more of the rooms in the underground complex below, including the Chiefs of Staff room, Mrs. Churchill’s bedroom, as well as the Churchill’s kitchen and dining room.

In the fall of 1940, Churchill discovered that the War Rooms were not strong enough to survive a direct hit from a bomb. On his orders, a concrete slab was built between the basement ceiling and the floor of the building above, and other sections of the War Rooms were filled with concrete to make them more bomb-resistant.

End of the War

On Tuesday, August 16, 1945, the doors to the War Rooms were closed. Even then, the British government recognized the extraordinary historic value of the space. According to Asbury’s book the Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, impromptu tours of the space were happening as early as 1946, even though there were still top secret documents present. These were removed in 1947.

In the 1970’s, as many as 5,000 people were touring the War Rooms each year. With growing concern about the conservation of the site and its contents, the IWM (Imperial War Museum) finally took steps to turn the space into a museum. On April 4, 1984, the Churchill War Rooms officially opened to the public.

Darkest Hour and the War Rooms

Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (Universal Pictures).
Gary Oldman plays Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (Universal Pictures).

Joe Wright’s film Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman as Churchill has been roundly acclaimed by both historians and film critics. This is one of my favorite films of 2017, and is now on my list of best WWII films ever made.

Scenes from the film take place in Parliament, and 10 Downing Street of course, but nearly four weeks of filming happened in the War Rooms, which were painstakingly reproduced by designer Sarah Greenwood at Ealing Studios in London.

In an interview with Mental Floss magazine, Greenwood said, “I designed [the War Rooms set], drew up the rough plans and everything over a weekend, and when I showed it to Joe, he was just like—and this is very rare—he was like, ‘Yep, that’s great.’ There were very few changes that we made to that,” Greenwood says. “And I think that came from knowing what it was going to be like. Because we’d been to the real War Rooms, we knew what we were trying to capture.”

If you want to get a sense of Churchill in these spaces, the Darkest Hour is the perfect film to watch before a visit to the War Rooms.

Two thoughtful reviews of Darkest Hour are available here: RogerEbert.com and the review in The Atlantic.

Gary Oldman as Churchill in the Map Room.
Gary Oldman as Churchill in the Map Room.

Information for Visiting the Churchill War Rooms

How long should you spend at the Churchill War Rooms?

I would say, at minimum, plan for a visit of 90 minutes. For those with a great interest in WWII, you could easily spend half a day.

In addition to the War Rooms, your admission gets you into the Churchill Museum, an award winning interactive museum about the life and times of Winston Churchill. You’ll find the entrance to the Churchill Museum on your tour of the War Rooms. On my visit, due to time constraints, I focused on the War Rooms. For more information, visit the Churchill Museum information here.

If you do want to spend several hours here, the War Rooms has a Cafe that is quite good. They serve tarts, stews, a variety of salads, and sandwiches. Conveniently located partway through the War Room path, it’s a great place to rest and ready yourself for more time exploring.

Cost

Tickets to visit the Churchill War Rooms are priced two ways: purchased day of visit, most expensive £21 – Adult — (bought ahead online £18.90),  £10.50 – child, 5 – 15 — (bought ahead online£9.45), as of January 2018. There is family pricing that varies depending on the number of adults.

Statue of Winston Churchill facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Statue of Winston Churchill facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Photograph, Mohana Anton Meryl, iStock Photos.

Seeing the War Rooms for less money: If you are doing general sightseeing around London, consider buying a London Pass that gives entry t0 over 70 attractions, including the Churchill War Rooms. Also included is a one day hop-on hop-off bus pass.

You can buy the pass in 1 day up to 6 day lengths. The London Pass is sold by a number of vendors. I recommend reading about the pass on the official London Pass site and then compare prices at Viator (London Pass on Viator), where I found the best price. Viator also gives you the option of purchasing the London Pass in conjunction with an Oyster Card for travel on the red buses and London Underground.

As you compare prices, keep in mind that on the official site, prices are in British Pounds, so you’ll need to convert them to compare value.

Location

Entrance to the Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, London
Entrance to the Churchill War Rooms. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

 

You’ll find the entrance to the Churchill War Rooms at the bottom of the Clive Steps. See the map below for directions.

Other Tips for seeing the War Rooms

During the summer and other high-travel seasons, the Churchill War Rooms will be crowded. Very crowded. It’s a tight warren-like maze of hallways and rooms, and it’s a big tourist draw, so it simply makes sense to be there when they open.

If you are a World War II buff, then the Churchill War Rooms should be on your short list of places to visit in London. If your significant other and/or children aren’t interested, do yourself a favor. DITCH THEM.  Send them off to do something they like, then go get your Churchill on! All of you will be happy you did . . .


Interested in WWII Planes?

Onboard the B-17 Flying Fortress

Beautiful: The slow drone of four radial piston engines on a crystal clear November morning as I stepped back in time with this great warbird. This morning, I drove out to a small airport north of Houston for a bucket list experience.


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The 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival

Every year in Taiwan, the first full moon of the Chinese New Year is celebrated with the extraordinary Lantern Festival. Learn about the 2018 Lantern Festival in Taiwan!

The Lantern Festival of Taiwan.
The Lantern Festival of Taiwan. Photograph courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Every year in Taiwan, the first full moon of the Chinese New Year is celebrated with the extraordinary Lantern Festival.

The Taiwan Tourism Bureau held the first Lantern Festival in 1990; it was designed to be an event to celebrate local folklore, and planned to coincide with the Ping Xi Sky Lantern festival and the Yanshuei Beehive Fireworks Festival.

The Lantern Festival has grown into an amazing national event in Taiwan. Originally held in the Chiang Chai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, it now moves to a different part of the country each year. Counties all over Taiwan compete for the honor to host the Lantern Festival.

In 2018, the Year of the Dog, the Taiwan Lantern Festival will be celebrated from March 2 through March 11 in Chiayi County. Ten days of scheduled events will bring tourism, culture, art, and technology together in a series of shows that rival some of the most magnificent anywhere in the world.

Taiwan Lantern Festival
The Taiwan Lantern Festival. Photograph courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

The Lantern Festival shows in Chiayi will be divided into “water,” “land,” and “air” zones.

The famous Sea of Clouds, along with sunrise, forest railways, and the Alishan cherry blossoms will be just of few of the themes depicted in the water zone. For those unfamiliar with Alishan and the Sea of Clouds this time lapse video below will give you a little glimpse into the extraordinary beauty of this phenomenon.

Each night, lantern shows focused on the “land” will be accompanied by professional dance performances, showcasing the history of Chiayi County while displaying traditional crafts created by local artists. Additionally, the “air” lantern shows will feature high-tech lanterns — made in innovative ways, showing new materials and techniques — creating something never before seen. This year’s Lantern Festival will be the very first technology inspired lantern festival. The combination of traditional culture and the artful incorporation of new technology will be central to the buzz about the 2018 Lantern Festival in Taiwan.

The Taiwan Lantern Festival.
The Taiwan Lantern Festival. Photograph courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Other Places to Celebrate the Lantern Festival

Ping Xi Sky Lantern Festival

Visitors can celebrate the Lantern Festival all over Taiwan, but about one hour’s drive from Taipei, there is a very special small village called Ping Xi that is famous for its sky lanterns.

Ping Xi stages a very special Sky Lantern Festival that coincides with the Lantern Festival. Sky lanterns were first used to send military information during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-265) and are considered to be the ancient precursor to hot air balloons.

On this special night during the Lantern Festival, thousands of sky lanterns are released, dotting the night sky with the glowing wishes for family and friends. It’s no wonder that National Geographic’s editors selected a visit to see Ping Xi’s sky lanterns as one of their Top Ten Winter Trips.

Ping Xi Sky Lantern Festival
Ping Xi Sky Lantern Festival. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Tainan Yanshuei (Yanshui) Beehive Fireworks Festival

In 1885, at the height of a disastrous cholera epidemic, the panic-stricken citizens of Yanshuei prayed to Guan Di, the god of war to bring an end to the pestilence that was killing so many. And it was on the Lantern Evening General Zhou Cang paraded through the city, with Guan Di’s palanquin at the end of the entourage. The people of Yanshuei followed the palanquin, setting off firecrackers all along the way, continuing to wind their way through the city until dawn to show their devotion. The cholera broke, and the plague ended.

The tradition continues to this day, with palanquins parading around the city, symbolically armed. Thousands of citizens and visitors encircle the palanquins, walking with them, following them as they snake through the streets. There are small “gun walls” set up all over Yanshuei — they each hold thousands of rockets that are ignited at one time as a palanquin passes by — a massive bee-like sound that draws the crowds in excitement to “rush the beehive barricades.” The people of Yanshuei believe that this massive cleansing by fireworks washes away bad luck and helps improve fortune at the beginning of the new year.

Tainan Yanshuei (Yanshui) Beehive Fireworks Festival
Tainan Yanshuei (Yanshui) Beehive Fireworks Festival. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Bombing of Master Han Dan in Taitung City

On the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year, Taitung City celebrates with the annual inspection tour of Master Han Dan, a God of Wealth and guardian of the celestial treasury. It is believed that in life, Han Dan was an actual person called Zhao Gong-ming. His annual inspection tour of the human world is an occasion for throngs of people to celebrate as they pray for the god’s blessing and for good fortune in the New Year.

Bombing of Master Han Dan in Taitung City
Bombing of Master Han Dan in Taitung City. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

On the day of Han Dan’s inspection tour, gods from many temples in Taitung and surrounding towns join the God of Wealth in a great procession. All along the parade’s route, people make offerings of fruit and fresh flowers, and light strings of firecrackers to welcome Master Han Dan. The actual person who plays Han Dan wears only a mask, a scarf, and a pair of red shorts. He must stand calmly in the middle of an ongoing blaze of firecrackers all around him, protected by a single leafy tree branch.

Why to the people throw firecrackers at Han Dan? The most commonly accepted tale is that Master Han Dan is the god of hooligans — and as people throw firecrackers, Han Dan’s power grows and grows from the loudness of all of the explosions. A second, less popular story says that Han Dan dislikes the cold, so people who throw firecrackers keep the god warm, thus winning his blessing.

The 2018 Lantern Festival in Taiwan — an extraordinary time to visit this exciting country

Official poster of the 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival.
Official poster of the 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival.

For More information about visiting Taiwan, visit the link below:

Taiwan Tourism official website

Taiwan Lantern Festival website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This post was sponsored by Taiwan: the Heart of Asia.


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