From the top: Statue of Liberty's crown may reopen
The National Park Service is considering reopening the Statue of Liberty's crown to the public, according to documents released by Rep. Anthony Weiner, of New York. Although the base, pedestal, and lower observation deck reopened to the public in the fall of 2004, the crown has remained closed since 9/11.
The crown's current configuration makes it impossible to evacuate the area in the case of emergency. The NPS has asked companies for bids on fixing the crown so that it complies with building and fire codes.
This move has a lot to do with declining tourism. Weiner, who organized a congressional hearing on the issue last fall, pointed out that there's been a big downturn in visitor numbers: 3.6 million people visited the Statue of Liberty in 2000, but six years later, that number had gone down to 2.5 million.
Of course, while not being able to reach the top probably did cause some travelers to skip Lady Liberty, the increased security and related hassles involved in getting there probably have more to do with the downturn. And that's not likely to be going away.
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Rick Steves shares impressions of Iran
After lengthy negotiations and paperwork, travel guru Rick Steves received the go-ahead to take a film crew to Iran for a 10-day shoot in May. They passed through Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, and Persepolis. Steves considers the forthcoming show to be a valuable window into Iranian culture—especially given the increasingly tense political relations. The show won't air on public television until January 2009, but you can get a preview at Steves's blog, which he updated from the road with fascinating anecdotes and photos. I recently chatted with Steves about the trip and how daily life has changed since his prior visit in 1978, when Iran was on the eve of transforming from a monarchy to an Islamic republic. On his recent return, Steves found the "decadent" society he remembers ("miniskirts were shorter in Tehran than Paris") replaced with a top-down theocracy. But he tried to observe the country without cultural judgment. "I didn't want to go to a mosque and think of it as menacing, but rather as a beautiful community activity," he said. Steves made a point of attending a Friday prayer service while in Esfahan, where he joined 5,000 worshippers and armed guards in a mosque with a bright mural reading "Death to Israel." Ruminations he later posted to his blog include initial feelings of apprehension, familiarities he noticed in the service, and unexpected moments like when he made eye contact with a worshiper who winked back or when he caught another man checking a cell phone. Steves was generally struck by a lack of spirituality. "I learned that if you really want your populace to be spiritual, the worst thing you can do is require it of them," Steves said. "I found Turkey to be much more spiritually alive than Iran." As he met individual Iranians in different places, Steves tried to understand what was important to them. "I've never had so much fun talking with people," he told me. No one could guess where he was from, and when Steves revealed he was American, he says they were most concerned about how he viewed their president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and President Bush—and how he was going to edit the footage of Iran. "They just assumed that I was going to spin it to sound pretty scary," said Steves. The crew filmed at the University of Tehran, and Steves was disheartened by the lack of student expression: "a strictly enforced dress code, no non-conformist posters, top-down direction for ways to play, segregated classrooms and cantinas, and students toeing the line." But he did point out that there are more women than men in higher education. While riding the subway, Steves noticed women-only cars, and brought them up in conversations with Iranian women. "They think of it as respect for women to provide a women-only car; they're not required to go in there, but they have the option." The Iranian government requires women to wear headscarves. Steves discussed the ways that many locals expertly, even stylishly, wore their scarves and how "a wisp of hair could be ravishing." The restrictive dress code also puts an emphasis on facial features that has created an obsession with perfecting noses. Steves's slide show includes a photo of a woman—one of many he encountered—noticeably recovering from a nose job. Even female tourists must cover their heads, and anyone traveling independently needs to hire a local guide (unless visiting relatives). However, Steves said the policy didn't seem to be strictly enforced. "I met a lot of Europeans using a Lonely Planet guidebook, and they technically had a guide, but he was off somewhere having tea." Iran wants to boost its number of Western visitors, according to Steves, who believes the country will challenge but also charm Americans. As for the footage of his trip? "I hope people will get the same value out of the show that they get when they travel to a place—that they will better understand it," said Steves. He added that many Americans don't even realize Iranians are Persian, not Arab. "We can all learn more about Iranians, regardless of politics or agenda; I'm bold enough to say it's practical to know somebody before you bomb." What are your reactions to his trip? Would you consider visiting Iran? PREVIOUSLY Persepolis: An Artist Depicts Her Iranian Childhood Real Deals: Iran Guided Tour, 13 Nights, $1,600
This weekend: Wine (and more!) in Washington
If you find yourself near Kirkland, Wash., a suburb northeast of Seattle, you'll definitely want to join the town's locals for a party by the water. Starting Friday at 2 p.m. and running through Sunday, this neighborhood right on Lake Washington will play host to Kirkland Uncorked, a festival of the "greatest hits" of festivals—wine, gourmet food, arts and crafts, and jazz. Vino is definitely the star of the show; be ready to taste more than 100 selections from about 20 Washington state wineries. The festival is free; admission to the Wine Garden for tastings is $25 at the door (see Wine Garden hours here). The event is in Marina Park, 25 Lakeshore Plaza Dr. and nearby downtown Kirkland, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Seattle. Come for the wine, stay for the dogs and cars. Sunday is the CityDog contest, where local dogs will compete for the cover shoot of Seattle's CityDog magazine. You can enter your pooch's pout for only $10; proceeds go to Pasado's Safe Haven. There's also a classic car show, featuring hundreds of hot rods and the like. PREVIOUSLY Oregon and Washington Getaways, From $89 Seattle: Eat Like a Local
How the Italian cookie crumbles
Planning to visit Rome? If your trip includes visits to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, or frankly any other monuments near the historical center, you'd better think twice before bringing drinks or snacks with you. City Hall has instituted a ban on eating near major tourist sights, which stays in effect through October—i.e. until all the tourists go home. Munchers caught ignoring the mandate will have to pay a fine of about $80. EARLIER Our Rome coverage
This Weekend: See 200 Vatican treasures in Cleveland
Missed the Pope the last time he came through? Never been to Vatican City? Now's your chance to see masterworks by famous artists, such as Giotto, Bernini, and Michelangelo. Vatican Splendors, a showcase of more than 200 rare art pieces and historical artifacts owned by the Catholic Church, is currently on display in Cleveland, Ohio. (The ongoing exhibit is available not only this weekend, but also through Sept. 7.) Many of the works have never been seen outside of Vatican City. Highlights include "The Madonna del Sassoferrato," an oil-on-copper painting of the Virgin Mary by Giovanni Battista Salvi, and "The Mandylion of Edessa," a linen artwork that is said to be one of the oldest representations of Jesus. The exhibit is on its second stop of a three-city American tour, with a final stop in St. Paul, Minn. Vatican Splendors is on display at the Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 East Blvd., in Cleveland, until Sept. 7. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $14 for kids; click here to order.