Conde Nast Traveler

Delicious Cities: Community Gardening Gets Serious

La Plaza Cultural community garden in New York City
La Plaza Cultural community garden.

by Mollie Chen

Last week I found myself knee-deep in conversation about compost rotators with Ross Martin, a landscape designer and longtime volunteer at the La Plaza Cultural community garden in the New York City's East Village. We were guests at a special dinner hosted by Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi to celebrate its partnership with the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA).

Yesterday Woodbridge at Mondavi and ACGA launched Giving Through Growing, a nonprofit educational program that will include, among other things, educational programs in five cities, as well as a Web site where you can send "e-seeds" to friends (and Mondavi will kick in $1 for each seed, up to a total of $40,000).

Mondavi couldn't have picked a better time. First lady Michelle Obama gave community gardening a big boost earlier this year when she broke ground on the People's Garden, but grassroots growing has been gaining steam for a long time.

Continue reading "Delicious Cities: Community Gardening Gets Serious" »


Wear Flowers in Your Hair this Midsummer

Midsummer Tilt-A-Whirl
Photo: glowrocks on Flickr
using Creative Commons

by Emily Gerard

The Scandinavians got it right: The summer solstice is something worth celebrating. After all, what's not to like about the longest day of the year? The early days of summer give us plenty to celebrate, and plenty of daylight hours in which to revel. Best of all, while most festivals provide us with ample opportunities to spend money, midsummer festivals are usually free.

Here are some of the best and most interesting celebrations taking place in the next few weeks, reflecting the wildly different ways that cultures have come up with to mark the occasion:

New York City
Tonight, blonds of all descents will flock to the traditional Swedish Midsummer Celebration in Battery Park. The annual event features a giant midsummer pole made entirely of flowers, authentic fiddle music, and Swedish traditions of all kinds including singing and dancing and drinking cheers. Everyone will be wearing flower wreaths in their hair, so drop your pretenses and learn how to make one yourself. To top it all off, Battery Park is as lushly green as you can get in NYC. As you watch the sun set over the river while you enjoy some surströmming, Sweden's national dish of fermented herring, we guarantee you'll wish even this day could last a little longer.

Out west, the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, the largest of its kind in Colorado, taking place June 27-28, bills itself as a "celebration of the powers of nature and rejuvenation of life." While it boasts many of the same attractions as New York's Scandinavian affair, this weekend-long celebration in Estes Park also features a "Viking encampment," thus possibly pushing it to the next level of awesomeness. Plus, it includes a tip of the hat to the event's origins as a fertility festival, and nod to pagan rituals associated with nature. Hej!

Continue reading "Wear Flowers in Your Hair this Midsummer" »


Mozart and Brodsky Walk into a Bar

Artist John Baldessari promises, "I will not make any more boring art."
Photo: Beata Loyfman-Santora

by Beata Loyfman-Santora

As you may recall, yours truly recently got hitched in Rome (hence the expanded last name). And after recuperating from the excitement at the gorgeous Casa Angelina on the Amalfi Coast, hubby and I took an overnight train to Venice, where we joined the hordes of art aficionados at the Venice Biennale. With 77 exhibitions going on at once, there's plenty to see. I especially liked Tobia Rava's optical illusions at Galleria d'Arte l'Occhio. As fellow blogger Ondine Cohane wrote, the city is in a frenzy of activity, so finding a quiet spot was tough. Luckily, I found two.

While I was wandering the labyrinthine streets behind the Teatro La Fenice, a gray plaque caught my eye. Turns out this was Casa Ceseletti, the residence of the 14-year-old Wolfgang Mozart in 1770. I stood inhaling deeply, hoping to ingest some of his musical genius. (I was unsuccessful.)

The Isola di San Michele is just a few minutes away from the northern part of the city, but thankfully has far fewer tourists--probably because most people are frightened by this island of the dead. Oddly, its cemetery houses quite a few notable Russians, including Joseph Brodsky, Stravinsky, art and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, and Ezra Pound (who wasn't technically Russian but was certainly of Slavic origins).

After just three days in what Brodsky called an "anarchy of water," the allure of this strange city took hold and I understood why so many artists flock here for inspiration. Venice positively overflows with it.

Further reading:
* Word of Mouth-er Ondine Cohane reports from the 53rd Venice Biennale
* New York artists ambush Venetian waters with barges of reconstituted detritus
* Boldface: Celebrity travels

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: Children in Córdoba, Spain

Spanish-childrenNearly two months in and Dream Trip 2009 is going strong, with more than 10,000 entries so far. For inspiration for your own entry, and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

Monday starts the last week of class for New York City public school students--and for the last month Condé Nast Traveler editors and other New Yorkers have been making their commutes in a subway system full of chattering, singing, and yelling kids on field trips. (Trust us: You don't want to get on a subway car with one of these groups if you've left your iPod at home.)

Somehow, a line of school-age children looks more appealing (and infinitely quieter) from Dream Trip entrant EHoofprint's vantage point on an upper floor of a courtyard in Córdoba, Spain.

"I woke up in my hotel and headed out for the day without an agenda," EHoofprint writes in the Dream Trip entry Children's Day in Córdoba, Spain. "I came across this courtyard filled with children. They danced, sang, and played all sorts of games. I watched the festivities for a while. The thing that sticks with me the most is that laughter is truly universal. You don't have to speak the language to know that."

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.


The Fate of Air France Flight 447

by Clive Irving

French officials are not stonewalling on the fate of Air France Flight 447. They just don't have much to go on. Without finding the black box data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, both of which are presumably resting on the ocean floor, the clue trail is frustratingly thin.

The trail remains the product of three sources: the 24 messages indicating a sequence of failures aboard the Airbus A330 sent digitally in the last four minutes of the flight; fragments of wreckage so far recovered, essentially only anything that could float; and autopsy reports on the recovered bodies.

The autopsies would show if the victims inhaled smoke and, therefore, if there had been a fire and they might show physical damage from a sudden loss of cabin pressurization.

Interestingly enough, the only news yet to come from the autopsies is that there were broken arms and legs. This could indicate what everything else is pointing to: A sudden and violent breakup of the airplane.

Nonetheless, even the best informed speculation is just that: speculation. The sonar pingers on the black box have only another two weeks of life left in them. A French nuclear submarine and American sonar searching gear have been deployed in the area of the South Atlantic where the remnants of the airplane are assumed to be, but it's a huge area to cover in such a short time and many experts doubt that the black box can be found before the pingers give out. That doesn't mean that the search stops at that point. It just becomes even harder.

Digital Flight Data Recorder Click the black box infographic above for a full-size version
Illustration: John Grimwade

Further reading:
* The Paris Air Show and the Brouhaha over Air France's 330 Crash
* Flight 447: The Pilots' Deadly Scenario

Read Clive Irving's dispatches on Flight 447 in The Daily Beast:

* Picking up the Pieces from a Midair Explosion (June 14)
* The Myth of the Black Box (June 7)
* The Secrets of Flight 447 (June 6)
* Who Was Flying Flight 447? (June 5)
* Last Words of Flight 447: From a Robot (June 3)


The Paris Air Show and the Brouhaha over Air France's 330 Crash

Photo: Barbara Peterson

by Barbara S. Peterson

The vintage planes assembled at Le Bourget Airport for the centennial of the Paris Air Show sounded an oddly off note this year amid all the bad news in aviation. Not only was this the worst economic crisis in years, but speculation over the causes of the crash of Air France Flight 447 (an Airbus A330 plane) compounded the gloom. Still, the biennial event, the world's biggest gathering of plane makers and their customers, drew many thousands of visitors, who jammed roadways named after Lindbergh and other aviation heroes leading into the historic airfield a few miles north of Paris. 

The nostalgia, stoked by various aerobatic demonstrations, didn't do much to paper over the unpleasant reality of aviation in the year 2009, however.  Yesterday, a press conference held by the agency leading the investigation into the Air France accident yielded little solid information, with French officials pleading for patience. At the same time, EASA, the pan-European aviation safety body, said it would decide by Friday whether to require all airlines flying the A330 to replace speed sensors that may have malfunctioned. Not doing this contributed to the Air France jet's mysterious demise (see Clive Irving's piece, to follow).

Airbus executives, too, were put on the defensive at a news briefing.

Continue reading "The Paris Air Show and the Brouhaha over Air France's 330 Crash" »


Kalyan Pathak: The Beatles, the Tabla, and Ragazz

Kalyan Pathak with Chicago-based jazz/drum-and-bass fusion group Drop Q.

John Oseid is on vacation. In this week's Boom Box, Stop Press intern Tara Kalmanson shares her passion for world music.

In 1969 in Ahmadabad, Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak's father ran into Frank Zachary, a broke 30-year-old American hippie with jaundice lying outside Khas Bazaar in 115-degree heat. After a long conversation about their shared love of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Pathak's father took his new friend home to nurse him back to health. Zachary named himself Pondurenga Das (Devotee of Krisna) and ended up clearing out the family's small attic and renting it for six months, during which he educated four-year-old Pathak in modern American music. When Pondurenga left for a couple months to study yoga in New Delhi, all Pathak wanted was "a drum like Ringo Starr"--Pondurenga brought him back his first snare drum.

Pathak had already been training in the double-headed North Indian drum called the tabla from age three, and by his early teens was so good that his teachers told him to give up on Western music and devote 12 hours a day to tabla study. Instead, Pathak gave up on his teachers and trained himself, eventually earning a scholarship to study jazz at Roosevelt University, in Chicago. He still lives in Chicago today, where he has played beside the likes of Aretha Franklin, Paul Wertico, Howard Levy, and Fareed Haque.

The result of this lifelong musical odyssey? A new genre: ragazz.

Continue reading "Kalyan Pathak: The Beatles, the Tabla, and Ragazz" »

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: A Mali Mother

Mali-mother Nearly two months in and Dream Trip 2009 is going strong, with more than 10,000 entries so far. For inspiration for your own entry, and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

Travel takes us to ancient monuments and dramatic landscapes, but it can also expose us to startlingly intimate, human moments half a world away.

Dream Trip entrant amysouza, a Chicago public high school teacher, experienced one such encounter on a trip to Mali that she took with a dozen student under the aegis of,  an after-school service organization.

"We worked sun up to sun down every day alongside the villagers, building a cherished elementary school for the village children," amysouza writes in the Dream Trip entry "Mother of Mali". "One day a women tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to take a picture of her. Of course, I obliged! She was beautiful, as she proudly stood before me with her breastfeeding baby."

"I love the determined expression on her face, which also reflects the fierce pride and love she displayed towards her child."

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.


Amazing Race Winner Back In the Game

Our post about Competitours (and the chance to win a free European trip this summer) elicited a comment from one Tyler MacNiven, winner of The Amazing Race, season 9. Turns out Tyler's joining the competition:

"Can't wait to race with my superhero mother, can't wait to get back into the fun competition, can't wait to crush the other innocent teams," he says. "I decided to sign up for Competitours because races like this are as close as I will (and want) to become to being James Bond."

You hear that, Daily Traveler readers? Tyler MacNiven is taunting your travel prowess!  Enter the Competitours contest on Jaunted and you might just have the opportunity to tour Europe and take on an Amazing Race champion. 


Eco-Friendly Laptop Case

Ecogear by Brook Wilkinson

Looking for a Father's Day gift? How about the new earth-friendly laptop travel case from Ecogear? It's made with nylon that's free of PVC (a possible source of dioxins, which have been linked to cancer and other diseases) and nontoxic dyes. I've been testing one out for a couple of weeks, and if I didn't have to return it to the manufacturer it would be replacing my current laptop case. The Tiger model that I tested has two wide top-zipping pockets, one of which has a Velcro compartment for your laptop. It was a very snug fit for my 13-inch MacBook for the first few days, but eventually the bag material relaxed a bit and now the computer slides in perfectly--safe and secure (the Rhino backpack fits 17-inchers). The gray interior with orange accents nicely straddles the line between business and casual, and there are more pockets and compartments than I know what to do with--plenty of places to store valuables and documents. The lightweight material and wide padded shoulder strap make for a comfortable carrying case--though I still like to store my laptop in my rolling suitcase when I'm trekking through airports and such. And the price is a cool 40 bucks. The verdict? A bag any dad would love.

Further reading:
* Where to find a checkpoint-friendly laptop case
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: Candles on the Ganges River

Ganges-River-CandlesNearly two months in and Dream Trip 2009 is going strong, with more than 10,000 entries so far. For inspiration for your own entry, and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

India has always had plenty of visitors: explorers, invaders, pilgrims, seekers--and, more recently, photographers. The Subcontinent is so visually rich that many travelers here return home with memory cards packed with impressive, affecting photos. One of the more stirring images we've seen lately: Dream Trip entrant ucsbalum's "Ganges River Candle Ceremony."

"Such a beautiful shot of a beautiful, moving evening," writes uscbalum in the Dream Trip entry. "After watching the sunset over the Ganges River, we lit candles in leaves filled with flowers... and set them adrift in the river. I felt privileged to see this truly holy place."

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.


Uncle Clay's "Slurpees": Real Hawaiian Food
Non-perishable souvenirs
at Uncle Clay's.

by Mollie Chen

Pacific Rim cuisine is all well and good, but for real Hawaiian food you're talking spam musubi, kahuku corn out of the back of a pickup truck, and, most important, anything with li hing powder. Li hing is a particular Hawaiian fetish, a brick-red powder that is puckery, salty, sweet, and savory. Crack seed shops (wide-ranging candy shops, essentially) sell a huge array of candies, crackers, and dried fruits that have been dipped in copious amounts of the stuff.

This past trip to Hawaii, I tagged along with my cousins to their favorite neighborhood candy shop to meet the famous Uncle Clay and try his offbeat Slurpee-esque concoctions. Uncle Clay is like a cartoon character come to life. For the last 13 years he has run Doe Fang, a small storefront in Aina Haina, selling candies, knickknacks, and these amped-up Slurpees. When I say Slurpees, I don't mean it in a deconstructed haute junk food way (cue Thomas Keller's "Kit Kat"). These are shaved-ice drinks dispensed from an ICEE machine in an array of neon hues. They're not good for you in any way, especially not the way Uncle Clay serves them, mixed with toppings such as his secret creamy sauce (less-thick condensed milk, perhaps?). 

From the slightly wacky collection of jewelry and Pokemon cards on sale to the ever-smiling Uncle Clay, the whole experience is pure Hawaii. You can't come to Doe Fang expecting a quick snack; waiting in line while Uncle Clay catches up with longtime customers or gently interrogates new ones is part of the experience. No one seems to mind, though, and people seem to come as much for the camaraderie as for the sugar rush. And they're aware that old-fashioned places like Doe Fang have to fight to turn a profit. "It's like paying tithings to the church," a regular said as he left a $5 tip on his $4 Slurpee treat. "If you want places like this to exist, you have to do your part to help them survive." 

Further reading:
* More from Hawaii: Alan Wong's Fish-Friendly "Farmers Series"
* Catch of the Day: International noshables

In This Issue

Old San Juan: A Perfect Quick Getaway
Newlyweds on San Juan's
Caleta de las Monjas.

Photo: Graciela Cattarossi
for Condé Nast Traveler

Restored to its original glory, Old San Juan makes for a perfect quick getaway. "The trip is easy and the change intense," writes Amy Engeler in Condé Nast Traveler's June issue. Here are some of her favorite spots in this storied island outpost:

* The Hotel El Convento is still the Old City's loveliest, with wrought iron canopy beds, mod cons, and Spanish colonial elegance. There's also a terrace plunge pool and a hot tub overlooking the cathedral (787-723-9020; doubles, $160$260).
* Da House is also a fun spot to stay. A former Franciscan monastery, it is now an eclectic hotel on the stylish side of bohemian. Air-conditioning but no elevator, some nighttime noise (787-366-5074; doubles, $80$120).
* At Marmalade, try the ambitious rich dishes: signature paella starter, snapper in parchment (787-724-3969; entrées, $19$29).
* For lighter fare, go to Toro Salao, which serves stylish tapas in a two-story townhouse. Outdoor seating across the street (787-722-3330; entrées, $8$24).
* It wouldn't be a trip to the Caribbean if you didn't check out the live bands and dancing at Escenario. The bands come out Thursday through Sunday; flamenco shows are on Sundays. The music starts around 10 p.m. (Calle San Sebastián near Calle San José).

For more on San Juan, pick up a copy of the June issue or read "Treasure in a Teacup" at

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: Antarctica Penguins


Nearly two months in and Dream Trip 2009 is going strong, with more than 10,000 entries so far. For inspiration for your own entry, and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

Summer's almost here on the Northern Hemisphere, which means it's dead winter in Antarctica (definitely the low season for visiting the Frozen Continent). And while it's incongruous to look at a picture of penguins diving off ice into chilly waters and think about seasonal high temperatures, the warm months are when it's best to visit the bottom of the planet--and when travelers such as Dream Trip entrant sadowjmsj make the journey.

"It was our second day at the Antarctic Peninsula and our first landing on the continental mainland," writes sadowjmsj in the Dream Trip entry "Last one in is a rotten egg!"

"The main attraction was a breeding colony of Adelie penguins, numbering upwards of 100,000 breeding pairs with chicks," sadowjmsj continues. "It was a gloriously sunny day and the colors of sea, ice, and sky were unlike any I had seen before. A leopard seal had been sighted patrolling just offshore and the penguins knew it. They were hungry, but wary, and made many feints at entering the water, creating a mad dash by crowds of their neighbors, only to stop at the last minute, leading to chaos at the water line. like schoolchildren daring each other on the playground."

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.


Contest: Win a Free Trip to Europe This Summer


We at the Daily Traveler would enter The Amazing Race in a heartbeat if not for all the time competitors seem to spend in airports bellowing orders at the poor airline representative behind the counter.

Enter Competitours. Several weeks ago, company creator Steve Belkin stopped by the office to talk about how Competitours has managed to graft custom trips through Europe with some of the competitive, team-based challenges of The Amazing Race--sans the stress and yelling.

The nature of the challenges created to help their clients experience the place and, as a result, break out of their tourist shell, appealed to us, as did the fact that winning teams from each Competitour trip earn prizes.

Now Competitours has teamed up with Jaunted to offer a free trip for two on the next Competitours challenge this summer in Western and Central Europe.  All that is required of you is a suggestion on a new challenge for the upcoming European trip.  If Competitours and the people at Jaunted like your challenge, find your travel buddy and start packing your bags.

Visit Jaunted for the official entry form, an interview with Competitours CEO Steve Belkin, and suggestions on what makes a great challenge.

The contest ends on June 25, and judging from the number of entries so far, chances to win are huge!  Good luck!


Lamu: Kenya's Enchanted Island
The main tower of the Lamu Fort.
Photo: Aluka Digital Library on Flickr
using Creative Commons

by Ondine Cohane

I just got an e-mail from Rizzoli about a new coffee table book that the publishing house will release this October, Lamu: Kenya's Enchanted Island. It got me thinking about my honeymoon, which I spent on the island, one of seven in an archipelago off the coast of Kenya. 

A beautiful beach destination in a country much more famous for its safaris, Lamu feels like a secret hideaway. The island has a stone town dating back to the fourteenth century, wide pristine stretches of sand, and gorgeous diving conditions (parrot fish, trumpet fish, and red and yellow snapper among the sightings). The only way you can get around the place is by donkey or dhow; cars are prohibited. It is one of those places where you can truly tune out the rest of the world while immersing yourself in a rich culture and history.

On my honeymoon, I was impressed by the quality and breadth of hotel choices on Lamu. In Shela, there's the legendary Peponi and the lovely Fatuma's Tower, and farther afield on the island of Kiwayu, the hippie-chic Munira Island Camp and the luxe Kiwayu Safari Village. I wonder how things have changed since then. Turns out Sophy Roberts, a friend and fellow journalist, recently wrote a piece about Lamu for the Financial Times' weekend section. I have to confess that I'm jealous she was there so recently.

I would go back to Lamu in a heartbeat.

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: The Pantheon


Nearly two months in and Dream Trip 2009 is going strong, with almost 10,000 entries so far. For inspiration for your own entry, and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

The phrase Roman holiday may be one of the most overused expressions when writing about a trip to the Italian capital, but this shot by Dream Trip entrant admorph makes it easy to understand the perennial appeal of the Eternal City--even on a business trip.

"I was in Rome, on business, for the first time a couple of years ago and took as much time as I could to see the sights," writes admorph in the Dream Trip entry "Pantheon, Roma." "My first night there I couldn't sleep, so I had a taxi driver whisk me around the best spots."

"There was no one around," admortph says. "It was past midnight--definitely the best way to see Rome!

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.

In This Issue

Viva Tel Aviv!
Tel Aviv's Hilton Beach reflects
the hedonism that earns the city
its title of The Bubble.

Photo: Rick Lew for Condé Nast Traveler

This city definitely wasn't built it a day. A hundred years after its conception, Tel Aviv is now a phenomenon of Mediterranean style. In Condé Nast Traveler's June issue, Adam Lebor wandered the city's mosaic of cuisines, clubs, and cultures. Here are some his favorite spots to hit along Tel Aviv's shores:

* The downtown Cinema Hotel is a marvelously restored former 1930s movie house, with free Wi-Fi and guest bicycles (520-7100; doubles; $188-$250).

* If you want to be closer to the water, the recently restored low-rise Dan Tel Aviv, with its multicolored facade and original 1960s furniture, is the best seafront option (520-2525; doubles; $314-$434).

* When you get hungry after hours of sunbathing--and believe us, you will--check out Orna and Ella, a legendary café on hip Sheinkin Street. Try the sweet potato pancakes and three-flavored falafel (33 Sheinkin St.; 620-4573; entrées, $13-$24).

* Nightlife in Tel Aviv typically gets started late, around 10 p.m. HaOman 17 is Israel's best-known superclub, luring international DJs for serious late-night partying (88 Arbabanel St.; 681-3636).

For more from Tel Aviv, pick up a copy of the June issue or read "Viva Tel Aviv" on


Table for Two at the County Jail

Thomas County, Georgia's part of the prison-garden movement.

by Sara Tucker

You know the prison-garden movement, the one proposed in this column several weeks ago ("The Angola Prison Rodeo and Locavore Grub Fest"), the idea being to use our vast prison system to grow healthy organic food, thus promoting agricultural sustainability and food security in our present time of crisis? Turns out there already is a prison-garden movement. Why, just last month, prison inmates in Sandusky County, Ohio, planted their first crop of vegetables as a cost-cutting measure after Sheriff Kyle Overmyer banned pancakes from the prison menu in response to a $75,000 budget cut ("Kale at the Jail," Similar gardens have sprung up this year in corrections facilities around the country, including Adams County, Pennsylvania (Corrections Reporter), and San Quentin, California (San Francisco Magazine). Some are donating extra produce to food banks. Sadly, however, many are hiding their light under a bushel basket. So here's a new proposal: prison restaurants. Prisoners grow, prepare, and serve the food to paying guests--obvious, right? So obvious, in fact, that it's already been tested in other parts of the world.

Continue reading "Table for Two at the County Jail" »


Tom Cruise or Not to Cruise?

Bella Vista. The view from Rome's Hassler Hotel.

by Beata Loyfman

Tom Cruise is following me. No, really. He and his young bride have some sort of sonar that tracks my activities for the purposes of replicating them and gaining international acclaim. Want proof? Remember that engagement story about Cruise ambushing unsuspecting Katie with a diamond atop the Eiffel Tower? Totally my idea. And where did the couple stay prior to the famed wedding? In a posh suite of Rome's Hassler Hotel, on top of the Spanish Steps. Coincidentally (or not) I found myself at just the same spot last weekend. Though my pockets aren't filled with Mission: Impossible loot, Room 408 of the Hassler was nothing to sneeze at (see photo above). What's more, I was here primping for my own nuptials. Eerie, no? Yes, there is the matter of a few years' timing lag, but these are just details.

I can't fault Cruise for his good taste though. Getting hitched in Italy is most advisable for anyone considering it (see Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Salma Hayek and Henri Pinault, etc.). And this is doubly true for the Hassler Hotel. From the incredible food (courtesy of the Michelin-starred Imago restaurant), to the jaw-dropping views of the Eternal City, to the white glove service, you really can't miss.

The only hitch (ha!) in your plans might be wrangling Italy's draconian marriage laws. They consist of obtaining stamps at various official offices in the city, none of which work in congress. So if you are late in having your grandmother's pre-WWII fishing license stamped, the particular department doing the honors may not be open again until the moon is waxing crescent and Saturn is in Mars. To avoid this head-spinning ordeal, just follow my lead and bring your own Internet-ordained minister to make the thing legit. Not sure if Scientology ministers count. 

Further reading:
* The Amalfi Coast is quite the romantic Italian spot, too
* Boldface: Celebrity travels

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: New Zealand Sheep


Dream Trip 2009 keeps building steam! Seven weeks in and we've had nearly 9,000 entries. For inspiration for your own entry and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

Call it a postcard for an insomniac: a flock of 85 (or is it 123?) sheep on a far-flung green hillside under cotton-candy clouds. Dream Trip entrant blandandy caught this image on a farm in New Zealand--so naturally, there's a Lord of the Rings connection.

"The way the sheep all seem to be looking at the camera really adds a humorous element to the photo," writes blandandy in NZ Sheep. "I took this picture on North Island at the Alexander Farm, a working sheep and beef farm that also happens to be the location of the Shire in the movie version of The Lord of the Rings."

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.


The Commuter Plane Switcheroo

Colgan Air flying as Continental Connection

Photo: Caribb on

by Barbara S. Peterson

It hasn't been a good week for that breed of airline known variously as regionals, commuters, or, less affectionately, puddle jumpers. (It's a safe bet that if you've flown anything whose name includes  "connection" or "express," you've been on one.)

First, the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation jointly stated that they would start scrutinizing how these little-noticed lines train their pilots. That's a response to revelations that the pilot at the controls of Continental Connection flight 3407, which crashed in Buffalo on February 12, had flunked numerous "check rides," the ultimate test of a pilot's skills. Other pilots involved in commuter accidents had had a similar failure rate.  

Then Congress got into the act, with hearings on both sides of the aisle. Why aren't airlines legally required to check the records of pilot applicants for their pass rates?

Continue reading "The Commuter Plane Switcheroo" »


Amadou and Mariam: Mali's Power Pop Duo

Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame wrote the melody for Amadou and Mariam's song "Sabali."

by John Oseid

Hundreds of indie rock fans poured out of Lower Manhattan's old vaudeville theater Webster Hall a few nights ago, buzzing all the way into the subway after watching Malian duo Amadou and Mariam tear down the house.

Resplendent in her golden boubou and designer sunglasses, Mariam sang the gentle "Sabali" (Patience) from the new album Welcome to Mali, her wistful voice floating over a gentle electronic beat. Then Amadou showed off wicked blues guitar skills on songs like "Ce n'est pas bon," about political corruption, while high-octane djembe and tama drummers (not to mention those backup singers' lithe dance moves) had the crowd whooping it up. For their encore, A&M reprised their joyful 2005 hit "Beaux Dimanche," whose simple repetitive refrain "Dimanche à Bamako, c'est le jour de mariage" (Sunday in Bamako, that's the day of marriage) closed the show. 

When I got home and flipped on the tube, there A&M were again, singing "Africa" with Black Thought of The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The gracious couple, who met decades ago in a Bamako school for the blind, are savoring their joy ride of new international acclaim. You can catch them tomorrow at the Bonnaroo Festival, and on July 10 the couple will open a series of dates for Coldplay. (Those lads have a  tough act to follow.)

More music:
* Amadou and Mariam's breakout album, Dimanche à Bamako, was produced by the eclectic Franco-Spanish star Manu Chao, who has a cameo appearance in the "Senegal Fast Food" video.
* At Webster Hall, the duo also sang the older romantic tune "Je pense à toi." I love the video.
* On the Nonesuch Label site, Damon Albarn talks about creating a Piaf chanson sound for "Sabali."
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.


Flight 447: The Pilots' Deadly Scenario

Brazil's Air Force official Henry Munhoz shows a photo of a piece of the Air France 447 flight being recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, Monday, June 8, 2009.
Photo: AP Photo/Roberto Candia

by Clive Irving

Whatever happened to Air France Flight 447, it happened in a way that denied its chief pilot, 58-year-old Marc Dubois, the chance even to send a Mayday distress call. But some of his colleagues are speaking for him. Bloomberg News reports today that a spokesman for Air France's biggest pilots' union, Eric Derivry, is citing as a likely cause the faulty air-speed readings that were indicated in the final burst of data sent from the airliner before it disappeared.

"These pilots were confronted with serious technical problems and erroneous indications of speed," said Derivry. Under those conditions, said the head of another pilots' union, Bruno Sinatti, "piloting becomes very difficult, near impossible."

It is extremely unusual for pilots to speak out in such clear terms before investigators have anything approaching persuasive and definitive evidence for the cause of a crash. They are usually averse to rushing to judgment, and the most skeptical critics of unproven theories. The fact that the French pilots have become so outspoken shows a surprising degree of confidence on their part that faulty air-speed instruments were to blame.

Their view gets some support in the latest issue of Aviation Week. In a detailed investigation of the flight systems of the Airbus A330, the reporters quote a longtime A330 pilot saying that if the pilots realized that the airplane was flying at the wrong speed--either too fast or too slow--what is called a pitch change, in which the stable balance of flight is lost, "can be extremely difficult to recover from."

Continue reading "Flight 447: The Pilots' Deadly Scenario" »

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day: Iran Museum

Gahavam-HouseDream Trip 2009 keeps building steam! Seven weeks in and we've had nearly 9,000 entries. For inspiration for your own entry and a chance to win a $25,000 vacation to wherever you choose, read our take on a recent eye-catching submission:

When we travel, we often notice the familiar in the foreign: a laugh between friends, a mother tending to her child, young lovers walking hand in hand.

But travel can also make the familiar seem foreign, as in this image, entitled "Reflection," by Dream Trip entrant dorothythompson, taken at Ghavam House, a nineteenth-century governor's residence turned museum in Shiraz, Iran. Here, the hijab all women in the country are required to wear transforms a Westerner's self-portrait into a snapshot of a distant land and culture.

"This mirror hall, the docent said, is recycling as art, when a creative use was found for broken pieces of mirrors being imported from Venice," writes dorothythompson. "How to capture the awe and remember the feeling of being within this regal place? A self-portrait in mirrors."

Share your travel photos and memories in our 2009 Dream Trip Contest. You could be just a few clicks away from a $25,000 trip to anywhere you choose.

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