Without running a Google search or checking a current almanac, most of us probably wouldn’t know that our Earth contains 757 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. Certainly most of us wouldn’t consider it possible to visit them all. Most of us would be wowed if we made it to 100 countries. Even 50 is pretty darn good. But all of them?
The author Moritz Thomsen, who died in 1991, didn’t have a huge following for his work as he toiled away in a poor Ecuadorian fishing village after a stint in the Peace Corps, but those who discovered his books—Living Poor (1969), The Farm on the River of Emeralds (1978), The Saddest Pleasure (1991)—loved his haunting and evocative revelations about life in equatorial South America. Now he’s seeing something of a revival in Ecuador, as Tom Miller reports in “Notes on an Andean Pilgrim” in The Washington Post. Miller, in his Introduction to The Best Travel Writing 2005, called Thomsen “one of the great American expatriate writers of the twentieth century…a soft-hearted cuss, a man of almost insufferable integrity, a lousy farmer and a terrific writer.” Can Bad News from a Black Coast, Thomsen’s unpublished memoir, be far behind?
It’s time to think about traveling to the Southern Hemisphere and, over the next several weeks, I will be giving slide talks about Patagonia and Buenos Aires at various bookstores and other locales on the west coast and the Eastern Seaboard, so this will be the place to ask your questions and, perhaps, win a free ticket to Buenos Aires or Santiago. The first event is at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, October 2, at Get Lost Books in San Francisco. This will be followed by events at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, on Sunday, October 5; Travel Bug in Vancouver BC on Monday, October 6; and Wide World Books in Seattle on Tuesday, October 7. For complete details of all events, as well as the air ticket raffle, see my Southern Cone Travel blog.
I walked out of Woody Allen’s recent film Vicky Cristina Barcelona with a gut feeling: I desperately needed to go to the Spanish city of Barcelona. The movie gave me such a hankering to visit the city, a city which, in a way, was a character in the film. The outdoor cafes, the robust red wine, the Spanish guitar and the Gaudi architecture all worked their magic on me. Continue reading »
Getting around Paris is fun. The metro is so easy to figure out, on time and goes nearly everywhere. In summer it can be hot and a bit stinky, but it’s almost a game using the maps or a Plan de Paris (a little book that has every neighborhood and metro stop, every street and bus line cross referenced and easy to find if you have your eye-glasses handy) to map out your trip. When I was a student in Paris I loved to jump on the metro, pick a random stop and then get out and explore. It’s pretty hard to get lost with a Plan de Paris, and I suggest all visitors buy one upon arrival.
Once you’ve traveled by metro it’s also great to get above ground. One of my favorite things to do is take the bus… any bus. Continue reading »
A few years ago I wrote an essay called “First Flight” that was published in The Best Travelers’ Tales 2004. The piece focused on the marvel of flying and how these days we fail to appreciate what we’re doing when we leave the ground and cruise through the air at 30,000 feet. I lamented that flying wasn’t a marvel anymore and told a story about my first flight, an experience I found astonishing and fantastic in the traditional sense because it was so unusual.
Other writers have addressed the notion of getting window seats whenever they fly because they don’t want to miss the extraordinary sight of Earth from cruising altitude, an experience no one had ever had before the 20th century. I remember John Flinn, executive travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, writing about how he would stubbornly refuse to lower his window blind to accommodate movie-watching passengers because his entertainment was outside. “Bravo!” I said when I read that column. Continue reading »
The Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco opened this June and I had been wanting to see the William Steig exhibit for weeks. I had seen it in New York last December with my older son, and wanted to have my little one share the experience. You probably know William Steig from his hilariously sharp social commentary as a New Yorker cartoonist. His work spanned more than half a century. Bill Steig lived next door to me as a child in Greenwich Village, and was my godfather of sorts. I remember watching him draw in his back studio and he always let me look at his latest creations. It’s one of my great pleasures as a parent to share his work with my my children. I love reading his smart, decidedly sophisticated, always colorful children’s books but most of all I was thrilled his work was being recognized, albeit posthumously. He, after all, created Shrek, and as the story goes, he only got $60,000 for it!
Almost 30 years after my one and only Carnival Cruise I still have a twinge of guilt over the tip I left my waiter at the end of my week. I didn’t know at the time that waiters relied exclusively, or almost exclusively, on tips from their guests for their livelihoods. My guy was too overbearing for me, and when I gave him an envelope containing maybe half of what he expected he just about chased me off the ship. When I learned why he was so distraught it was too late to do anything about it. Now a new book, Cruise Confidential, brings it all back to me in living color (and then some). USA TODAY travel editor Chris Gray takes a look at it on The Cruise Log blog.