5 Places Conan Should Go on Vacation

By Mike Barish
January 25, 2010
Conan O'Brien, the now former host of The Tonight Show, needs to recharge his batteries and forget his battle with NBC. Here are some destinations the redheaded funnyman might like best.

Australia If Conan is sick of being the palest man alive, maybe a trip south is the answer. Way south, that is. There's perhaps no better place to reintroduce himself to the sun than Down Under—from Bondi Beach to the Great Barrier Reef. Conan could use some of the $45 million he received from his separation agreement to fly his whole staff down with him. Fares to Australia haven't been this cheap in 5 years, so now's a great time to go.

Canada Conan seems to do well when he travels north. Not only has Canada's largest newspaper, The Globe and Mail, urged the national television broadcaster to hire the comedian, but he also once donned a Mountie uniform and spent a snowy day "assisting" the Canadian border patrol.

Finland While it may seem like an odd place for Conan to seek refuge, Finland's actually a place he's familiar with. Back in 2006, Conan visited the Nordic nation to meet his Finish doppelgänger, Tarja Halonen. Their shared likeness was made odder when one notices that Ms. Halonen is a) a woman, b) 14 inches shorter than Conan and c) the president of Finland. Overall, Conan found the Finns to be quite charming. He once told TV interviewers, "I've been around, and there are some countries where the ladies don't look too good. But, Finland. Mwah! It's incredible."

Mexico Conan's alter-ego, telenovela star Conando, could be hugely popular south of the border. (¿Conando? ¡Sí, Conando!) This is a perfect year to visit Mexico because the country will be celebrating its bicentennial with plenty of street parties. Conan could show off his marionette-like dance moves.

The Netherlands The Dutch are considered to be the world's tallest people. At 6'4" (7'2" when you include his hair), Conan could easily blend in and enjoy some much-needed anonymity after weeks of intense media scrutiny. From Amsterdam, he could extend his vacation throughout Europe quickly and cheaply by train.

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Made in America: 7 Tours Worth Taking

Boeing Mukilteo, Wash. From two open-air observation decks, tours at the massive Boeing factory look down on 747s, 777s, and the imposing new 787 Dreamliners (wing span 186 feet, max speed 560 mph) in various stages of completion. Workers crawl like ants over the planes, assembling fuselages, attaching wings, and installing jet engines. During peak production times, tours can pass a dozen or more airplanes-to-be. Outside the factory, a shuttle bus takes you to Paine Field, where finished planes are tested before delivery. You may even see a 787 take off—a rare treat, as the plane has not yet gone into commercial service. For obvious reasons, security at the factory is tight. Cell phones and other electronic gadgets are forbidden, as are purses and backpacks. Lockers are available for $1. 800/464-1476, futureofflight.org, tours daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., $15.50, reservations suggested. Children must be at least four feet tall to take this tour. CNN Studios Atlanta, Ga. The highlight of the 55-minute, behind-the-scenes tour is a view into the newsroom, a huge glass cubicle that some reporters wryly call the fishbowl. Visitors watch from an observation deck high above as reporters monitor satellite feeds from around the world and piece together video stories. You also peek into studios, where broadcasts of HLN (formerly called Headline News) and CNN en Español are filming. News junkies will get a kick out of Studio 7E, a replica of a real set complete with prompters and green screens; pretend you're Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer before heading to the food court at ground level. 404/827-2300, cnn.com/studiotour, tours daily every 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, $13, reservations suggested. Kohler Kohler, Wis. At Kohler, many of the kitchen and bath fixtures are still made the old-fashioned way. In the pottery area, workers shape toilets and sink basins over fiery kilns that reach 2,250 degrees Farenheit. Inside the historic manufacturing buildings (the oldest dates back to 1901), visitors don the required protective goggles and head straight to the factory floor. Guides, some of whom have been with the company for 50 years, fill you in on how things have changed over the years. One new addition: Herman, the staff's affectionate name for the powerful machine that helps make many of the bathtubs. Molten iron is poured into molds, which the machine peels away to reveal clawfoot tubs that steam and glow a bright orange. 920/457-3699, us.kohler.com, Monday to Thursday at 8:30 a.m., free, reservations required. Harley-Davidson Kansas City, Mo. This is the only Harley facility where motorcycles like the sleek, liquid-cooled V-Rod model are assembled from start to finish. Over the course of the tour, pass through the fabrication area, where sparks fly as workers weld the halves of the motorcycles' fuel tanks together, and the assembly line, where hundreds of employees perform precise tasks like connecting the handlebars or fitting the engine to the bike frame. Lending a (metal) hand are more than 70 robots. One eight-foot robotic arm, mounted on the floor, mimics a human as it picks up and polishes the gas tanks before their first coat of paint; another lowers a huge crate (imprinted with the timeless phrase "Your Hog Has Arrived") over each motorcycle just before shipping. One motorcycle can be completed in 55 minutes—less than the hour it takes you to wander around the factory floor. 816/270-8023, harley-davidson.com, weekdays every half hour between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., free, reservations suggested. Louisville Slugger Louisville, Ky. You can't miss the Louisville Slugger factory—a 120-foot-tall bat leans against the main building. (Unlike the wooden models made inside, this one is made of carbon steel.) The 25-minute tour takes you into the working factory, so close that you can smell the branding machine burn the company's name into each finished product. The lathe whittles a 37-inch-long cylinder of kiln-dried wood into a Slugger in just 60 to 90 seconds, spewing sawdust everywhere in a feat that's a favorite with kids. At the adjacent museum, take a swing with Mickey Mantle's old lumber, and then check out the notches Babe Ruth carved into his favorite bat for every home run he hit with it during the 1927 season. Batting cages are available, and you can take a hack at 10 balls for $1. If you want a Slugger of your very own, order one with your name on it at the beginning of the tour and pick it up at the end ($15 to $70, depending upon size and style). 877/775-8443, sluggermuseum.org, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., $10, $5 for kids under 12, reservations not required. NBC Studios New York City If you're a fan of 30 Rock, you know the drill: NBC pages lead picture-snapping tourists around the studios (fun fact: Regis Philbin, Ted Koppel, and Willard Scott are all former pages). After watching a film covering the history of early radio and television, visitors are escorted to sets where programs like the Today show and Saturday Night Live are shot. The highlight for many on the hourlong tour is a peek of the NBC control center that oversees more than 100 hours of programming per day. Tours end with a chance to read from a teleprompter or have your picture taken behind an anchor desk. One note: Studios in use during tour hours won't be visited (for example, early morning tours may skip the Today show set). 212/664-3700, nbcuniversalstore.com, Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., $19.25, reservations suggested. Steinway & Sons Long Island City, N.Y. This venerable company got its start in Germany, where founder Heinrich Steinweg built pianos in his kitchen. Today, more than 150 years after Steinway moved to New York City and started Steinway & Sons, the instruments are still fashioned by hand. See 22-foot-long maple planks being shaped into a grand piano's distinctive U-shaped body. Master technicians make subtle adjustments to virtually every part of the piano, weighting individual keys and threading each string through its own tuning pin. Along the way, every piano gets a distinctive sound—what the craftspeople call its soul. It takes a full year, from lumberyard to showroom, to make 990-pound grand piano. 718/204-3164, steinway.com, Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. September through June, free, reservations required—call at least a month in advance.

Just Back From...Road-Tripping in the Costa Brava, Spain

Great local meal...On Thanksgiving night, we found ourselves in Cadaqués [PHOTO], a bohemian seaside village known as a refuge for artists such as Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and countless others. Any inkling I had of being homesick for the holiday was erased at Cu4tro, a lively waterfront spot. I dug into local specialties like brandade, a dish of smoothly pureed salt cod, olive oil, and potatoes, and a freshly caught, whole-roasted daurade fish, while Ronnie zeroed in on the menu's closest thing to a Thanksgiving feast: chicken in mushroom sauce and potato puree. Our favorite parts...As a fan of surrealism, I loved driving the "Dalí Triangle"—Púbol, Cadaqués, and Figueres. In Púbol, we wandered the Gothic rooms and gardens of the medieval castle that Dalí gifted to his wife, Gala. The Elephant with Giraffe Legs [PHOTO] was a particular highlight. It was easy to see how the whitewashed, windswept town of Cadaqués—where Dalí summered as a child and resided late in life—inspired the artist. The bare, twisted plane trees [PHOTO], for example, resemble the bony fingers in Dalí's famous work Metamorphosis of Narcissus. Moment when things got tense...The journey nearly started off on the wrong foot when Ronnie went to pick up the car in Barcelona. When he arrived at the rental office, he realized he had left his passport in the hotel room, with me, across town. I dropped everything and took the hour-long bus trip with his passport. It was a few hours wasted, but the bus route hit all of the city's highlights, and the hotel kindly extended a late checkout. Worth every penny...The sliced Iberian ham, manchego cheese, and freshly baked bread we bought at every market we came upon. If we rolled into a town around 4 p.m., we'd find ourselves out of luck for food until around 8 p.m., so slapping together small sandwiches would tide us over until dinner. We may have gone overboard, but there's nothing like that ham in the U.S. [PHOTO] Total rip-off...Breakfast at the Parador de Aiguablava in Begur would have jacked up the nightly rate by €34 ($50) and was not worth it. Our Iberian ham and cheese sandwiches came in handy that morning. Fun surprise...We originally planned to blow through Pals, but we couldn't resist staying. Within the quaint town walls, a labyrinth of tapas bars, boutiques, pastelerías, and cafés awaited. And just outside the walls, we encountered an alfresco flea market. As we were poking around, Ronnie noticed a button had popped off his pants. Strangely, minutes later, we came upon a button vendor. Ronnie searched for a close match, found one, and asked to buy it. The dealer explained that she only sold buttons by the dozen, but since he needed it, he could have the button for free. Wish we'd known that...The distances were as short and easily accessible as they were. We might have made an even more ambitious plan to cover extra ground. We're still laughing about...Stalking superchef Ferran Adrià at elBulli [PHOTO], the best restaurant in the world. Though we didn't have a reservation, we decided to drive to Roses and at least take some photos of the restaurant. We discovered that the property fronts a beach, with a lovely hiking trail passing alongside its outdoor terrace. While there, we witnessed Adrià [PHOTO] welcoming Hiroshi Ishida, whose eight-seat, invitation-only restaurant, Mibu, is the most exclusive in Japan, if not the world. Ronnie, the shutterbug, got so excited that he had a paparazzo moment—he actually climbed a tree and got a shot of the chefs together! [PHOTO] Hotel we liked...La Residencia in Cadaqués earned a special spot in our hearts because of its history and eccentric decor. The hotel opened in 1904, and Pablo Picasso slept there. The arty interior includes a shrine to local hero Dalí, along with a gorgeous, stained-glass skylight. Our room was small and nondescript, but clean—maybe something a starving artist would rent—while the suites were more artistically appointed. Also, it was well-located, the staff was delightful, and the price was right at €60 ($87) a night, including breakfast.

Travelers' Tales

Next Prize: Bahamas The best response we receive from Feb. 1, 2010, to Mar. 1, 2010, wins a three-night stay in the Bahamas for two, with airfare, some meals, and two Shallow Water Dolphin Interactions, courtesy of JetBlue Getaways and Atlantis, Paradise Island. More info: 800/538-2583, jetblue.com/vacations. How to enter: E-mail us at TrueStories@BudgetTravel.com or mail us at True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 7th Ave., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10018. Full guidelines: BudgetTravel.com/truestories. TRIP WINNER Moral: Don't fish for piranhas January's winner was Julie Akey of Honolulu, Hawaii. She won a 10-night trip for two in Vietnam, courtesy of Intrepid Travel. Her story: Last summer, my family spent four days in Ecuador's Huaorani territory, by a tributary of the Amazon River. One day, our guide took us to a lagoon to fish for piranhas using chunks of bloody beef. I caught the first one. After reeling it in, I excitedly reached down to take the hook out. Suddenly, the fish jumped up and chomped down on two of my fingers! Thankfully, I didn't need any stitches. And I got my revenge by eating the piranha for dinner that night. An extra-tall tale As a 6'8" man, I always grill hotel clerks about the specifics of a room. Will the bed end at my knees? Will a low ceiling fan give me a haircut? Everything checked out on a trip to Tokyo. One ryokan owner even gave me extra-large towels and an extra-long kimono. Such service! I felt like I was 10 feet tall, even before I went to brush my teeth. Robert Neu, Brooklyn, N.Y. Are you savvier than a monkey? When I went to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Bali, my driver told me to empty my pockets and leave my valuables with him in the car. I consider myself a savvy traveler, so I smirked and switched my wallet and passport to my chest pocket. My driver warned me that I could be mugged in the forest and should really leave my wallet behind. In the woods, a monkey landed on my shoulders, reached around my neck, and robbed me blind. A guard came and scolded me for bringing my valuables and then went to get some treats. The monkey and I bartered. I gave him a peanut; he gave me a credit card. I gave him a piece of fruit; he gave me my passport. Finally, I had all my belongings back—and I went on to enjoy an amazing trek. Patrick Manson, Superior, Colo. Not the first time we've heard this story On a recent trip to Peru, I visited an open-air market. As a tea drinker, I am always on the lookout for exotic varieties. I found a vendor with the largest display of tea bags I'd ever seen. The packages were in Spanish, and I searched, trying to recognize an ingredient, until I came to the last item in the display. That's when I realized I was sorting through a big rack of condoms. Celia Gianoli, Reno, Nev. Traveling with parents can be awkward While I was working as an airline reservations agent, a woman called to report a lost suitcase. She was adamant that she needed the bag back immediately. When I began to explain the compensation for lost luggage, she screamed, "My mother is in that bag!" All I could imagine was a little old lady curled up in a suitcase. I repeated, "Your mother is in the bag?" And she explained, "It's her ashes." Without thinking, I blurted out, "Dear heaven, woman, she gave birth to you—couldn't you have put her in your carry-on?" Julie Donnelly, Conroe, Tex. One way to score your own hot tub Years ago, my parents went all-out and arranged for us to stay at a five-star resort at Walt Disney World. One night, we decided to take advantage of the pool and hot tubs. Quite a few other guests had the same idea, and they were crowded. My little brother and I, then 6 and 8, ran around, jumping in and out of the water. When my brother landed in the hot tub, Mom said, "This is for sitting; no swim-ming and no putting your head under-water." My brother replied, "Why? Will it kill lice?" Within seconds, the other guests excused themselves, and it was just our family in the tub. Mom asked my brother what he meant. Earlier in the week, we had been checked for head lice at school; neither of us had them, but the screening had apparently made quite the impression on my brother. Angela Saathoff, Ridgeland, Miss. Brownie points for life My husband and I went as newlyweds on a four-day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We had just completed the most difficult portion and were enjoying the view at 13,780 feet. In the distance, I heard a Peruvian flute. Then I recognized the tune and teared up—it was "Happy Birthday," and it was for me. I had forgotten it was my birthday! My husband was behind the sweet surprise. Our cook even made me a birthday cake that evening, despite the fact that he had not planned for it—he just improvised. It was a birthday I'll never forget! Melanie Mapes, Chicago, Ill.