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Budget Travel Upgrade

March 30, 2007
0705_m_btuwashington
Erik Johnson
A couple from Wisconsin heads to Washington, D.C., and we arrange a tour of the Capitol led by their congresswoman.

The last time that Kim Jones, of Sun Prairie, Wis., visited Washington, D.C., Jimmy Carter was president and she was a Junior United Nations Ambassador. "I was so young, I can barely remember it!" she says. So when work called for a meeting in D.C., Kim and her husband, Rodney--who'd never been to the city--made a vacation out of it.

We contacted Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, the Joneses' representative, and arranged a tour of the Capitol for them, led in part by the congresswoman herself. "It was nice to get a chance to tell her how we appreciate her work," says Kim. The couple was also shown around sites that are normally off-limits to the public, including the Rayburn Room, a members-only break room located next to the chamber floor; and the Speaker's Balcony, which overlooks the National Mall. "The balcony had a phenomenal view!" reports Kim. "It was chilly, but we're from Wisconsin. We're tough."

Capitol tours are free (aoc.gov); contact your representative in advance for passes to the House gallery.

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Best Bridges of the New Millennium

FRANCEMillau ViaductCompleted in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world. It reaches a height of 1,125 feet, making it 141 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower (without the antenna). Back Story: Spanning a mile and a half between two plateaus in the Tarn Valley of southern France, the bridge is part of a network of highways that link Paris and Barcelona. Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the cable-stayed, masted structure is supported by seven concrete piers. The appearance is of a narrow ribbon stretching across the gorge. See for Yourself: The Millau Viaduct is about 400 miles south of Paris, a six-hour trip by car via the A10, A71, and A75 motorways (leviaducdemillau.com). The toll to cross is $7 per passenger car ($9 in the months of July and August). The Cazalous welcome area has a film about the construction and a viewing platform (011-33/5-65-59-42-86; from Millau, follow signs on the D992 roadway toward Albi/Toulouse). And the Millau tourism office sells guided bus tours of the bridge daily (ot-millau.fr, $13 per person, reservations are required). ENGLANDGateshead Millennium BridgeSince opening in 2001, the 413-foot-long Gateshead Millennium Bridge has linked the cities of Gateshead and Newcastle in northern England. Nicknamed the Blinking Eye, it's the world's only tilting bridge--opening and closing as an eyelid does in order to allow ships on the River Tyne to pass underneath. Back Story: The design is by London-based Wilkinson Eyre Architects. The deck, open only to pedestrians and cyclists, curves horizontally and, when not in use, hangs above the river from suspension cables fixed to a steel arch. The bridge uses hydraulics to tilt as a single, rigid structure: As the arch lowers, the deck rises, each counterbalancing the other. See for Yourself: For tilt times, do a search for "Gateshead Millennium Bridge" at gateshead.gov.uk. There's a free viewing platform attached to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the Gateshead side (011-44/191-478-1810, balticmill.com). The bridge is worth seeing during the day, when lighting on the underside of the deck creates a reflection on the river, and again at night, when the arch is lit up. During the week, the light is white; on weekends, it's a spectrum of colors. Rolling BridgeDesigned by London's Heatherwick Studio and completed in 2004, the Rolling Bridge is just one of three innovative footbridges (see Helix Bridge and Station Bridge, below) that are drawing visitors to one of the largest mixed-use regeneration projects in Europe, Paddington Basin on the Grand Union Canal in West London. Back Story: Thomas Heatherwick's 39-foot-long kinetic sculpture is technically a drawbridge, but instead of splitting in two, it retracts by curling up into a tight ring so that boats can pass by. The eight steel-and-wood sections are hinged together; the hydraulics are cleverly concealed in the handrails so that nothing detracts from the clean lines. In its closed position, the Rolling Bridge doesn't resemble a bridge at all--it looks like a steel-and-wood octagon at the water's edge. See for Yourself: The Paddington and Edgware Road Tube stations are at opposite ends of the Basin (tfl.gov.uk/tube). To watch the bridge in action, go Friday at noon. Don't be late: It takes just three minutes to curl up into a ball. During warmer months, the Paddington Waterside Partnership leads a series of free tours of the area (paddingtonwaterside.co.uk). Helix BridgeThe 24-foot-long Helix Bridge at Paddington Basin, designed by Marcus Taylor, is nearly 12 feet in diameter and appears to retract like a corkscrew to allow boats to pass by. (As it rotates, the cylinder moves back and forth on a track.) The bridge is open to foot traffic, but cracked panels need to be repaired before it can rotate. Station BridgeLondon artists Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell designed the 240-foot-long Paddington Basin Station Bridge (2004), which connects Paddington train station to the main basin development. The Station Bridge's aluminum deck is cantilevered off a shimmering glass wall that was clearly inspired by Japanese shoji screens. U.S.A. Denver Millennium FootbridgeDesigned by ArchitectureDenver, the 130-foot-long Denver Millennium Footbridge (2002) was built to cross the railroad tracks separating Riverfront Park, a complex of stores, condos, and green spaces, from the 16th Street Mall. What makes the big impression, though, is the 200-foot-tall, tapered steel mast, which resembles that of a sailboat. Back Story: To have the deck as low as possible while still allowing trains to pass underneath, the support structure had to be above the deck, hence the single, tilted mast at one end. It's tilted to distribute the asymmetrical weight. See for Yourself: At night, the mast is lit from below, creating a beacon at the edge of downtown. Free shuttle buses run from the capitol building to Union Station, a five-minute walk east of the bridge (rtd-denver.com). Sundial BridgeAnother Calatrava design, this glass-and-granite deck, completed in 2004, crosses the Sacramento River in Redding, Calif., linking the north and south campuses of Turtle Bay Exploration Park (turtlebay.org, $12). The cable-stayed design precludes the need for piers in the water, which would have disturbed a salmon-spawning habitat. Reiman Pedestrian BridgeSantiago Calatrava's first commission in America was the Quadracci Pavilion, a 2001 expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum (414/224-3200, mam.org). He designed a footbridge to complement the brise-soleil, the wings that rise and lower to control temperature and light in the new pavilion. NETHERLANDSLyre BridgeSantiago Calatrava's Lyre Bridge (2004) is in Hoofddorp, near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. It's one of three cable-stayed bridges in the area designed by the Spanish architect; all cross the Hoofdvaart canal. Back Story: Unlike the other two bridges (see Lute Bridge and Harp Bridge, below), the Lyre has two connected spans--a 64-foot lower roadway and a 488-foot overpass--and a 190-foot mast. See for Yourself:: It's a 23-minute train ride from Amsterdam's Central Station to Hoofddorp (ns.nl, $10 round trip). From there, take the 145 bus south toward Leiden; it stops at all three bridges ($1.75). The bridges are within five miles of one another, if you'd prefer to walk or ride a bike. Lute BridgeAt 86 feet long, the Lute is the shortest of Santiago Calatrava's three Dutch bridges. It provides access to the Toolenburg district of Hoofddorp. The city council had planned a roundabout and a bridge for the site, but Calatrava incorporated the idea of a traffic circle into his design: Two curved roadways join the two banks of the Hoofdvaart canal. Harp BridgeThe 468-foot-long Harp Bridge, which provides an entry to the town of Nieuw Vennep, is another in Calatrava's trio of Dutch bridges. Designing three bridges in one area is a trend for the architect: Work on his three bridges over the Trinity River in Dallas, Tex., is scheduled to begin this year. CHINADonghai BridgeChina is emerging as the Land of Bridges, with scores in development or under construction. The most ambitious project to date is the Donghai Bridge (2005). The longest cross-sea structure in the world, it connects Shanghai's Luchao Port to the Yangshan Islands in the East China Sea. Back Story: Most of the 20-mile-long bridge is a low viaduct, with six lanes designed for vehicle speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Its serpentine route lessens the fatigue drivers encounter when going in a straight line for long periods. Four cable-stayed arches allow ships to pass underneath; the main arch is formed by two 500-foot towers and has a span of 1,400 feet. See for Yourself: Although the bridge's primary function is to serve Yangshan's deepwater port, there are future plans to develop the East China Sea islands as tourist attractions. One company has recognized that the bridge has an appeal in itself: Last spring, Shanghai Huandao Shipping ran 90-minute sightseeing cruises from Luchao Port to Donghai Bridge several times a week. There was no word at press time that they'll be offered this year.

Jefferson Slept Here

The official mascot of the University of Virginia is the musketeer-like Cavalier, but unofficially it's the wahoo, a fish that, according to student legend, can drink twice its weight in a day. That's probably not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he designed U.Va.'s elegant neoclassical brick buildings and colonnades. Having all but completed work on Monticello, his home five miles south of the campus, he spent the last years of his life building the university, which includes the Rotunda, a half-scale version of the Pantheon in Rome. Jefferson died less than 18 months after the first classes were held in March 1825. But he'd be pleased that nearly 200 years later, the university is still the heart of Charlottesville. In a town of 45,000, the 20,000-strong student population is a visible presence, especially along the historic brick-paved pedestrian mall a mile and a half east of campus. Most of the restaurants have outdoor tables, which fill up quickly on Saturday afternoons. A number of the mall's storefronts are filled with books (New Dominion Bookshop is the best of the bunch). Thanks to Charlottesville's most famous musical export, The Dave Matthews Band, the town also has big-city-quality nightlife. While some band members still have homes in the area--as do Sissy Spacek and John Grisham--it's DMB's manager, Coran Capshaw, who has made the biggest impact in recent years. He has opened eight restaurants--and counting. "You can definitely feel his presence," says Che Stratos, a Charlottesville native. "Eric Clapton played here. That never would have happened before." Capshaw's popular Blue Light Grill & Raw Bar is where the young and beautiful go to sip martinis, sitting in leather banquettes in the window that faces the mall. The warm, red-and-orange interior befits the Asian-influenced menu. Grilled Hawaiian wahoo is, of course, a favorite. In the Belmont neighborhood, Capshaw turned what was once a gas station into the industrial-modern Mas, a tapas bar open till 2 a.m. that serves mostly organic small plates, such as wild mushrooms sautéed with garlic, herbs, Mahon cheese, and butter. At Starr Hill, you can try the ale-infused dishes ("beeramisu" and stout-marinated steak) in the dining room and then head upstairs to listen to live music. Bigger acts like Wilco, James Brown, and Willie Nelson have played at the outdoor Charlottesville Pavilion, which Capshaw helped build at the east end of the mall. On Friday evenings in summer, there are free concerts under the tent. Long before he made the big time, Dave Matthews used to bartend at Miller's Restaurant, a converted 90-year-old drugstore that still has the original pharmacy drawers and tin ceiling. Many fans have made a pilgrimage there, but few realize (or perhaps even care) that Matthews never actually played on the small stage. "Matthews hasn't been back for years," says one of the bartenders, "because this is where people come to look for him." Students tend to congregate at The Corner, an area on University Avenue right across from the campus. At the Buddhist Biker Bar & Grill, in a Federal-style brick building nearby, they spill out onto the wraparound patio and lawn with glasses of beer in hand. Thomas Jefferson surely wouldn't mind: He used to brew his own over at Monticello. Food Blue Light Grill & Raw Bar 120 E. Main St., 434/295-1223, entrées from $16 Mas 501 Monticello Rd., 434/979-0990, tapas from $3 Starr Hill 709 W. Main St., 434/977-0017, entrées from $12, tickets $5-$25 Activities University of Virginia 434/924-0311, virginia.edu Monticello 434/984-9822, monticello.org, admission $14 Shopping New Dominion Bookshop 404 E. Main St., 434/295-2552 Nightlife Charlottesville Pavilion 877/272-8849, charlottesvillepavilion.com, tickets from $15 Miller's 109 W. Main St., 434/971-8511, cover on Thurs. only, $4 Buddhist Biker Bar & Grill 20 Elliewood Ave., 434/971-9181

This Just In!

On June 10, France inaugurates its TGV East-European high-speed train service. Travel time from Paris to Reims will be cut in half, to 45 minutes, making the Champagne region an easy day trip from the capital. The journey from Paris to Strasbourg, in Alsace, will take two hours and 20 minutes (raileurope.com). Club Med Cancún has just opened Passworld, a lounge area exclusively for teens, with activities like dances, movie nights, and crafts classes (clubmed.com) The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is mounting a major exhibition of artist Osamu Tezuka's work, the first to be held outside Japan. Known as the God of Animation, Tezuka is the creator of Astro Boy and one of the founders of the manga and anime movements (June 2-Sept. 9, asianart.org, $12). Starting next month, Carnival Cruise Lines will offer four- and five-day round-trip cruises from New York City to the Bay of Fundy, with stops in St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia (carnival.com, from $429). On June 6, as part of the annual D-day commemoration ceremonies in Normandy, France, a new 30,000-square-foot visitors center will be dedicated at the American Cemetery and Memorial (abmc.gov, free). Marking another pivotal moment in World War II, the USS Indianapolis Museum opens July 1 in Indianapolis at the Indiana War Memorial. It'll be home to artifacts related to the famous battleship, which was sunk near the Philippines by the Japanese on July 31, 1945 (ussindianapolis.us, free). On many Air France flights, passengers can take lessons in a choice of 23 languages on seat-back video screens. The usually no-frills EasyCruise has a spa with services like massages, facials, and manicures available for a charge on sailings in the Caribbean and the Greek Islands. At the same time Spirit Airlines is cutting fares by up to 40 percent, it will begin charging $1 for sodas, juice, and coffee, $5 or $10 each for the first two checked bags, and $100 for a third piece of luggage. SeaLife's ECOshot, a waterproof digital camera, is ideal for beach activities and kayaking and diving excursions, as well as rainy days (sealife-cameras.com, $250). Hefty introduced OneZip Travel Bags meant to be carried on to planes, with a shape designed for travel-size toothpaste, shampoo, and other liquids. HBO shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood will be available for $2 and up on Delta flights more than four hours long. New routes from JetBlue connect Boston to Charlotte and Bermuda; Orlando to Washington Dulles and Ponce, Puerto Rico; and New York JFK to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The U.S. government altered a border-crossing rule due to take effect in June 2009: Children 15 and under will not be required to have passports when entering the U.S. by land or sea. Marriott is in the process of upgrading the TVs at its high-end properties, adding 32-inch high-definition models that quickly and easily connect to laptops, iPods, video games, and digital cameras.

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