Category Archives: guidebook

Best resources for planning our Portugal trip

guidephotoHard to believe that in my youth, I rarely planned trips and never used guidebooks. In middle-age, with limited time to travel, a slightly bigger budget and advanced pickiness, I’ve taken to booking lodging and sometimes meals in advance using an array of guidebooks and travel articles. Here’s what’s come in handy for Portugal:

Lonely Planet guide – Got this from the public library and have used primarily to find lodging and bone up on cultural activities.

Rick Steves’ guide – It’s not as detailed as the Lonely Planet guide but Rick was helpful in narrowing down where to go during a two-week period. His guide is not as encyclopedic as Lonely Planet – with info on far fewer locations and for the locations it does list, offering fewer options. I didn’t use his lodging suggestions much – Lonely Planet had a wider range, more interesting off-the-beaten-track places and good subtitles like “rural inn” to help narrow things down. I don’t like big hotels or resorts. I prefer smaller family-run places where you can sort of get a feel for what real life is like and connect a little with locals/local life. But I think Rick’s guide will be helpful for actual sight seeing, with some good walking tours in places like Lisbon and Porto…

Newspaper travel stories – The NYTimes has a few including a story on The Other Algarve (which I found a bit late, after I’d spent considerably time trying on my own to figure out the least touristy places to visit) and a 36 Hours Lisbon; But I also found some really helpful stories from the Travel Channel (Anthony Bourdain’s show), the British press including some stories from  the Telegraph and the Guardian, plus Afar magazine.

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Check out The New York Times 36 Hours: 150 weekends in the USA & Canada

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now for a little self-promotion…hot off the press: The New York Times, 36 Hours: 150 Weekends

A New Yorker cartoon recently summed up the typical contents of a blog that it’s: 1/3 how to sew, knit, cook, whatever, 1/3 kvetching of one variety or another and 1/3 self-promotion. Or some such.

With this blog, I’ve tried not to do much of any of that. But hey, what’s wrong with a little self- promotion – especially when, sadly, I won’t earn anything else  from the re-publication of two of my stories for the NYTimes  in an upcoming 774- page coffee table travel book.

So be on the look out for  The New York Times, 36 hours: 150 weekends in the USA and Canada which should be available in November I’m told and includes my stories on Oak Park (Illinois) and on Iowa’s Coast (yes, coast – along the Mississippi).  They’ve been updated since they ran several years ago – but not entirely by me.

Here’s some promo material:

The 740-page book includes the Times’ top 150 travel destinations, from cities and towns to natural wonders across America. Practical recommendations for the over 600 restaurants and 450 hotels is inside with color-coded tabs and ribbons to bookmark favorite cities in each region. Nearly 1,000 photos, most of them from The New York Times archive made it in, making it small enough to throw in your suitcase but big enough to enjoy from your favorite reading chair. The new illustrations by Times illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli of Milan, Italy look fantastic, and includes easy-to-reference indexes and detailed city-by-city maps,.  This will be TASCHEN America’s top title of the year.

The New York Times, 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada
Hardcover, 16.8 x 24 cm (6.6 x 9.4 in.), 744 pages
EUR 29.99 | USD 39.99 | GBP 24.99 | JPY 5900.00

The best of the USA & Canada: The highly acclaimed New York Times travel feature finally available in one updated volume

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Where to stay on Hawaii’s Big Island: can the mags/books/websites be trusted?

So I’m elbow deep in thick guidebooks trying to figure out the best (my “”best” definition: the most interesting/authentic, least expensive/resort/chain-like) place to stay on Hawaii’s Big Island and fine myself torn about two B&Bs in Volcano, Hawaii (right by the National Volcano Park).

I’ve gone to the websites for each and watched the videos and slide shows and scanned the maps and read the testimonials. I’ve looked at one room after another, even one B&B’ s  floor plans. Does it really make a difference if the proprietor was born and raised in Volcano – or a relatively recent transplant from Oklahoma?  Do I care that one serves a hot breakfast, the other a cold; one serves organic fruit, the other fruit not billed as organic? And to think I used to just travel without booking a place to stay – let alone the absolutely perfect place to stay, whose every crevice I am familiar with in advance.

This researching also raises the question of whether to trust the opinion of various travel magazines and guidebooks.  Having written for both, I sometimes wonder what their criteria is for choosing “the 25 best” or “the 10 places we love” etc.  (A recent example – Forbes Magazine recently selected the Des Moines neighborhood I live in as one of America’s 12 prettiest. It’s nice enough but one of the top 12? Looking closer, I saw that a Des Moines magazine editor helped do the picking.)

Back to Hawaii: B&B#1  appears to be the darling of the travel mags (two have given it a major thumbs up) and it is the cheapest. But judging from the websites of each, it  looks rather drab compared to B&B #2 which is more cheerfully decorated, gets respectful reviews in two guidebooks (as does B&B #1) ,  has its share of local “Best of” awards, and was selected as a stopover by a respected walking tour company. True it’s $70 more a night, which one guidebook says is a “con” because it’s overpriced for the area.  But I may just have to go with my gut on this one.

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London guidebook: takemewithyou

A good friend in London weighed in on London guidebooks and she recommends one written by a friend:  The London Mapguide by Michael Middleditch – which she reports is “slim but full of facts and beautifully illustrated.” I found it on Amazon:

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Read this: A new collection of Johnny Apple’s food/travel writing

And now a plug for Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W. Apple Jr., the new collection of around-the-world food pieces by my dear friend and mentor, the late great Johnny Apple (who I  met in 1980 in London when he was the New York Times London Bureau Chief and I was a college kid there).

Johnny taught me – by example – to always take time during a reporting trip to ferret out terrific places to eat, places that often led to further insights about a place (not to mention a good meal).  For Johnny, a terrific place didn’t always mean the most exclusive, expensive, and gourmet place. Sometimes it meant the best Serbian restaurant in Milwaukee (The Three Brothers) or the best ice cream in Cincinnati (Graeter’s) or the best cherry pie in Northern Michigan (at a hut along the side of the road).

Over the years, until his way-too-early death in 2006, my husband and I had several always-memorable meals with Johnny – and sometimes with his lovely wife Betsey – often in Des Moines when Johnny was covering the Iowa presidential caucuses that he helped make so important.   His enthusiasm for food  – the production, cooking, dining, you name it  – was infectious and took him to all kinds of places, including an Iowa hog farm on a frigid winter day in 2000  for a story he wrote on Iowa pork, inspired in part, I like to think, by a meal we had at a Des Moines restaurant (the now-closed Bistro 43). He liked the restaurant’s pork dish so much that he invited the young chef to join us and peppered him with questions.  Johnny’s subsequent story on Iowa pork producers ended up including that chef’s pork recipe (a nice break for the chef, which I admit, I nudged Johnny to include. See:

Another time, I gladly did a little sleuthing for Johnny at the Iowa State Fair, securing the name and contact info of the winner of the fair’s tough cinnamon roll competition in 2004 for a story Johnny did on Midwesterners’ sweet tooth. (This story appears to have made it into Far Flung and Well Fed.)

In October, 2005,  Johnny emailed an invitation  to meet him – on very short notice – in Kansas City for dinner  My gut instinct was to decline – KC was a three-hour drive each way, the meal was on a weekday, and we’d need a babysitter.  But I’m so glad we accepted. Johnny was in fine form and we had a wonderful get-together and meal (at  the now-closed 40 Sardines in Overland Park).  It was the last time we saw Johnny.

For more about the book, check out the very entertaining interview on NPR last Saturday with the warm and funny Betsey Apple:

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, DINING, guidebook, Kansas City

Traveling by book

When I’m not traveling on  foot, my default mode of transportation is by book. I read and reading takes me to new places, old places, old places that suddenly seem new, places I don’t necessarily want to go but often find fascinating. The latter has been the case with Bonnie Jo Campbell’s new short story collection “American Salvage” which has taken me back to my home state of Michigan, except it’s an almost unrecognizable version of Michigan, certainly from my middle class suburban Detroit upbringing of the 1960’s and 1970s. This is 21st century rural Michigan at its grimmest, ravaged by unemployment, poverty, methamphetamine, crime, violence and populated by desperate, down-at-the-heels, unhappy and worried people, some seeking salvation or to salvage what little they’ve got left. It’s a tough journey and I find myself stopping along the way, picking up more cheerful reading for a break, but strangely compelled to return to this trip. Anyone else out there taken it? (Or read it?)

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