Saturday, September 02, 2006

Once Upon a Time at the Gas Pump

An article about King’s Canyon National Park in yesterday’s New York Times got me thinking about my trip there in 2003. I took my family on a great road trip – we flew to Las Vegas, rented a car and camped while visiting four National Parks: Death Valley, Sequoia, King’s Canyon and Yosemite.

I used to have an interesting little story from King’s Canyon. Less than three years later, it’s not so interesting anymore. It was the story I called “The highest price I ever paid for gas in the United States” (once upon a time).

On September 6, 2003 I paid $2.79 per gallon at the only gas pump in King’s Canyon National Park. It was shocking at the time. Sure, I’d paid more in Europe – probably that much per liter – but this was America! Still, we didn’t mind spending the money, the scenery was beautiful and it was very remote from any other competition. We paid our money, smiled inwardly, and went on our way. Today I looked up prices from that week on the Department of Energy website. The national average was $1.61.

After we returned home, I enjoyed telling people about that experience for a while and it never failed to impress. I forgot about it until yesterday when I read that article and it made me nostalgic for the good old days: three years ago.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Memorable Meals: Munich

I’ve gotten some feedback that some of you would like to hear about my favorite places to eat in the world. Today I’m beginning a series called “Memorable Meals” where I will write about those places that loom large in my memory, rather than my latest restaurant experience. I will, of course, include the latest information about the establishment in case you’re inspired to seek it out on your own.

There’s a German word, gemütlich, which means pleasant and congenial and has connotations of coziness. I found the embodiment of that word as I stepped through the doorway of a small 400 year old stone building in Munich’s Viktualienmarkt on a gray rainy evening. The Bratwurstherzl
restaurant is at least as old as the Viktualienmarkt, where meats and produce have been offered in the open air daily for nearly 200 years. I imagine that their earliest customers would feel right at home there today. Though it’s close to the heart of the tourist Munich, the majority of patrons always seem to be speaking German.

Here homemade bratwurst is grilled over beechwood coals and the local Hacker-Pschorr beer is tapped from a wooden barrel. Although there’s an extensive menu of Bavarian specialties, I wasn’t going to visit the Bratwurstherzl and skip the bratwurst. I ordered a plate of twelve sausages with Weinsauerkraut and a beer. Now before you get too excited about the twelve sausages, let me explain that traditional Bavarian bratwurst is made into small links about the size of American breakfast links.

The bratwurst was served on a heart-shaped tin plate with the Weinsauerkraut in a separate dish. It was quite simply the best sausage, the best beer and the best kraut I’ve ever had. Ever. The bratwurst was juicy without being greasy and was delicately perfumed by the beechwood smoke. The kraut was not too sour, filled with complex flavors, nothing like the hot dog topping we know in the States. The beer was sublime, with a wonderful yeasty, slightly floral taste and a long-lasting foamy head.

I think that this place is so special, that it’s worth visiting every time you’re in Munich to sample the old favorites and try new ones like traditional pretzels and schnitzels. My clients have come back with glowing reports after I recommended it to them. Why don’t you try it too?

Bratwurstherzl is located at number 1 Dreifaltigkeitsplatz not far from the Marienplatz subway station. They’re open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

Photo Credit: Becky Gould

Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Secret Cruise Ship Sport

It’s time to sail. All passengers were warned to be aboard 29 minutes ago. The gangplank has been run in and mooring lines are let go. The Captain and another white-shirted officer watch from the pier side bridge wing. He turns towards the helm position and gives an order to an unseen person. A long, earsplitting blast sounds from the ship’s whistle while the thrusters whirl to life and push the ship away from the pier.

Passengers are watching from the rail on the top deck, savoring the end of a day in port before heading to their cabin for a shower before dinner. A few, including myself, are focused intently on the street at the end of the pier; waiting for the inevitable drama. I raise my binoculars in time to see a taxi screech to a halt by the security gate. Three young women emerge waving their arms at the ship. They run, camera bags and backpacks flopping in every direction, down the thousand foot long pier. I can see by their expressions that they realize that a 962 foot long ship doesn’t stop for late passengers once it’s underway.

I’ve seen this happen on every Caribbean cruise I’ve been on – especially in ports with lots of bars. It never seems to happen in Oslo or Ketchikan, I guess because those ports don’t have a Señor Frog’s. If you miss the boat, you can rejoin at the next port – at your own expense.

This particular story has a happy ending, though. The girls are pretty and the gallant men of the Cozumel harbor patrol agree to ferry them out on the Pilot boat. So let this be a lesson for you: don’t miss the boat -- or, the next time you’re on a cruise, bring your binoculars out on deck when you sail away – that’s where I’ll be.

Photo Credit: Christopher Gould

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Watch Your A** On This Plane

You can file this under oversensitive airline nit-picking if you want, but oh my aching tuckus.

I’m sitting on a flight ready to roll back from the gate, privately congratulating myself for scoring an exit row seat. Ninety-four minutes later, I didn’t feel so great, my backside was aching and I was happy to be at my destination.

A few weeks later, same thing: my smugness fades early and the extra legroom in the exit row isn’t a consolation. I realize that this is the same type of aircraft as before, a Canadair CRJ700, made by Bombardier Aerospace. I experiment with other seats on the plane and quickly determine that there’s far less padding on the seats in the exit row. This must be motivated by some safety concern on the part of the designers. Are they kidding? Do people really get bogged down in the cushy soft pads of other aircraft seats? In coach? Give me a break.

The CRJ700 is a very popular plane and is operated by lots of carriers including American, US Airways, Delta, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Air France among others. I like it for lots of other reasons, but it’s more fun to complain. For now, my clients and I will make do with less legroom.

Photo Credit: Bombardier Inc.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Two Model Resorts in the Caribbean Show the Way

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the impact of tourism on the places we visit – do we risk destroying the very things we seek? Last week, there was an in-depth cover story in Travel Weekly (an industry publication) that looked at the current construction boom in the Caribbean. Newer and larger resorts, hotels, condos and infrastructure are springing up from Aruba to Bahamas.

I’ve watched construction crews work all night on Paradise Island in the Bahamas and I’ve been in Cozumel on days when there were seven cruise ships in port. Certainly, I bear some responsibility for this – I’ve been selling the cabins on those very ships, I send my clients to the Bahamas, driving up the demand. I realize I’ve already been adapting to this boom for some time now: telling my Grand Cayman travelers what days to avoid town because of all the cruise ships; keeping up with new construction that impacts the experience at adjacent, formerly secluded resorts and so on.

I think it’s going to take some enlightened people in both the private and public sector to properly manage this. A great example of success is The Caneel Bay Resort on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and The Little Dix Bay Resort on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, two of my favorite places in the Caribbean. They should remain relatively unchanged due to the actions of one enlightened man, philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller. He established them to provide luxurious relaxation for his family and friends that was in harmony with the Caribbean ecosystem and culture that he loved so much.

Forty-some years ago, Rockefeller donated the properties to the Jackson Hole Preserve, an environmentally-focused nonprofit with ties to his family. To protect the land around the resorts, huge undeveloped tracts were donated to the U.S. and British Governments to create Virgin Islands National Park and Gorda Peak National Park, respectively. Today, the landscape surrounding both resorts is unchanged, and sensitive management by Rosewood Resorts allow the guest experience to be top-notch without deviating from Rockefeller’s original vision.

I am never worried about development affecting my clients’ experience when I recommend Little Dix Bay or Caneel Bay. That’s the model that should be sought – allow appropriate development, while preserving what attracts travelers in the first place. Let’s hope that it happens before it’s too late.

Add to Google

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.