WEB SMART

Invasion of the Pod People!

By Clay Williams, Tuesday, Nov 22, 2005, 1:30 PM

Blogging is so last year. Podcasts, which are alternately fun, oddball, and amateurish, can be downloaded onto computers and MP3 players for free. Apple's iTunes lists tons of podcasts; these four are among the 100-plus travel-related options.

1. San Francisco: sparkletack.com

Host: Richard Miller, born and raised in Northern California and a San Francisco resident for 15 years. A graphic designer by trade, Miller is an amateur historian especially fascinated with the gold-rush era. He discusses new topics weekly: the origins of city street names, burrito etiquette, men being shanghaied onto ships along the Barbary Coast in the 19th century, the trials and tribulations of Patty Hearst. Why he does it: "I'm fascinated by history, especially the story of this beautiful and romantic city. History is entertaining to listen to, and important in understanding who we are and where we have come from." Listen in: Describing the Wave Organ, PVC tubes that play a kind of symphony along the waterfront: "The sounds are created by the impact of the waves against the tubes . . . It's guaranteed to give you a little space to contemplate, to calm your mind and ease the background roar of 21st-century static."

2. Kyoto: kyotopodcast.jp

Host: Tim Burgess, born in Melbourne; his family moved to Indonesia two weeks later, and shifted to a new country every few years. (His father was a diplomat.) During a recent stint studying Japanese in Kyoto, Burgess began producing weekly podcasts that, if you're listening at a computer screen or on a photo-capable iPod, include embedded images of the temples and other sites discussed. Why he does it: "I am most interested in Kyoto's traditional architecture, especially in the context of the associated history. We try to overcome the language issue for non-Japanese speakers. We have no commercial sponsors, so it's purely a labor of love." Listen in: Frequent guest Donald "the Nut," who specializes in tasting unusual local delicacies, describing natto (fermented soybeans): "Some people compare it to the taste of dirty socks. But I don't think it's like that. People say that about cheese, don't they? Well, I love smelly cheese and I love smelly natto."

3. Spain: notesfromspain.com

Host: Ben Curtis, born in Oxford, England. Seven years ago he agreed to teach English in Madrid for a few months, and has lived in the city ever since. He's now married to a Spaniard, and works as a translator, web designer, writer, and part-time English teacher. His wife, Marina, sometimes posts blog messages and helps host podcasts, which discuss Spanish culture--late dinner hours, hometown loyalties, flamenco bars, local markets. Why he does it: "People complain that Spain is too monocultural--same food in every restaurant, too proud, closed to outside influences--but therein lies my fascination. I've always loved radio, and now I can broadcast independently." Listen in: On the women who visit the Balearic island of Formentera: "They are all rather model-like, and spend most of their days... topless and G-string wearing, which is terribly hard for the poor innocent men who come here on holiday.... They have to deal with all this awful visual distraction."

4. London definitivelondon.com

Host: Ed Thomas, born in the north of England. His family moved to Brussels soon after, then to London when he was 10; he has lived there on and off ever since. Thomas holds a law degree, is pursuing a master's in advertising, and records weekly podcasts aimed at giving visitors an honest, definitive picture of London. He's particularly drawn to museums, restaurants, and nightlife. Why he does it: "I'm a major tourist, and I know what details I've found useful upon arrival in a new city, and I draw on that. But then, of course, I try to go beyond day-to-day practical information and give an insider's view of what's hot and new." Listen in: Eighteen is the legal age for drinking in the U.K. However, if you're 14, with your parent or guardian, and having a sit-down meal, then you are entitled to order from the drinks menu. If you're 16...and you're having a meal, then you can also order alcoholic drinks."