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6 Easy Safe-Eating Tips I Wish I'd Known Before My Last Trip

By Fran Golden
August 21, 2012
1207_TripCoach_Illo
Edwin Fotheringham
In some corners of the world, one wrong sip can put a serious cramp in your travel plans. Try these common-sense steps to prevent—and bounce back from—the ultimate vacation bummer.

I'm planning a trip to Peru. Is it inevitable that I'll get diarrhea?

What's that I hear? A collective "Ewww, gross"? Let's settle down and demystify this common travel ailment, officially called travelers' diarrhea (TD) but also known by a variety of colorful nick-names, including turista, Montezuma's revenge, Delhi belly, and the Turkey trot, depending on where you are in the world.

Whatever you call it, the symptoms are, alas, universally awful: urgent sprints to the bathroom, abdominal cramps, sometimes nausea and vomiting, and in serious cases dehydration and fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that TD hits up to 50 percent of international travelers and up to 70 percent of those visiting high-risk regions, including most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America.

But TD is not inevitable. The main cause is food and water contaminated with bacteria (such as E. coli and salmonella), viruses, and parasites from animal feces. When those pesky microorganisms hit your gastrointestinal tract, your gut essentially erupts in an effort to get rid of the invaders. Your odds of getting sick are higher when a rudimentary water system—such as those in developing regions—fails to adequately separate tap water from waste water. What's more, food-safety standards from farm to table are usually less stringent than in
the U.S., Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Meat can become contaminated at the slaughterhouse, fruits and vegetables come in contact with manure-based fertilizers, and restaurant workers often aren't taught to wash their hands before handling food-even after using the toilet.

What can I do to stay safe?

One easy rule of thumb: If your lodgings don't allow you to flush toilet paper, don't drink the water. It's a sign you're visiting a region with an unsafe water supply. That also means no ice cubes or diluted juices or cocktails with water or ice, no swallowing shower water, and no brushing your teeth with tap water (a BT reader recently recommended placing an airline luggage tag over your hotel bathroom's faucet as a reminder). Instead, drink bottled sodas and carbonated waters (unfortunately, some bottled still water may be contaminated in some countries). Or purify your own water: One option is to bring an electric kettle and boil tap water for at least one minute. Stuart Rose, M.D., founder of the Travel Medicine Center of Western Massachusetts, suggests that you bring iodine tablets, which kill bacteria in about 10 minutes.

As for food, "Boil it, peel it, or forget it" has been the standard recommendation. It means you should eat only foods that are thoroughly cooked (that goes for vegetables as well as meats, since raw veggies were likely washed in tap water) or that you yourself have to peel (like oranges and bananas), which ensure that only your well-washed hands have come in contact with the fruit. In high-risk regions, packaged foods—especially those that you bring with you from home—are going to be your safest eating option. (See below for our list of "Credible Edibles.")

Oh, and I should also mention: Your mom was right when she insisted you wash your hands before dinner. Pack a bar of soap and hand-sanitizing wipes or alcohol-based gel such as Purell. You may have no say in whether a restaurant worker washes his hands before handling your food, but keeping your own paws pure will go a long way toward keeping invaders out of your GI tract. Cleaning hands with soap and warm tap water (even in high-risk regions) is safe, says Cedric Spak, M.D., M.P.H., an infectious disease specialist at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, as long as you wash your hands vigorously and thoroughly dry them.

Are street food carts off-limits?

No, but (of course) there's a caveat. Food prepared at a street cart is not inherently more or less safe than food at the upscale bistro around the corner, says Spak. What matters—and this goes for any restaurant, cart, or home-cooked meal—is how scrupulously hands, surfaces, and food are kept clean and how efficiently the food is served. Here are the things you want to watch for when deciding whether or not to eat from a street cart:

  • Pick a cart with a long line and quick turnover, which means food is hot and fresh. Certain vendors are popular because their food is tastier and safer-it's worth the extra minutes in line.
  • Bring your own bowl and utensils. It may sound impractical, but in developing regions, improper washing of serving dishes may transmit microorganisms that can make you sick.
  • Make sure food is served piping hot. If it's been left out to cool, it could be harboring a growing colony of bacteria.
  • Fly from flies. Never eat food that isn't protected from insects, which can contaminate even freshly cooked dishes.
  • Go with your instincts. If surfaces don't look clean and you don't see a place where workers can wash their hands, pass.
  • Return to a cart you've enjoyed. Finding a vendor serving safe, delicious food can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship-he may even share recipes if you ask.

Are there medications I can take while traveling that will make me immune to TD?

Some people swear that taking Pepto-Bismol may reduce TD risk, and Rose says that the active ingredient, bismuth, has some antibacterial properties. However, the product is meant to treat stomach upset, not prevent it, and you should check with your doctor before loading up your suitcase with "pink magic."

Likewise, probiotics ("good" bacteria) found in yogurt have not been clinically proven to prevent TD (the CDC says evidence is "inconclusive" to date), and taking antibiotics preemptively is not recommended for most travelers. Readers of BT's blog, This Just In, recently posted their own TD remedies, including ginger and cayenne pepper pills, but research doesn't yet support those remedies either. One reader suggested that drinking alcohol after every meal helps keep her safe. Spak jokes that, like chicken soup, "It couldn't hurt."

Are there any apps that can help me vet restaurants for safety?

At the moment, DineSafe.com covers more than 250,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada and offers an Android app (an iPhone app is under development) that allows you to find a restaurant's health rating, with explanations of what the ratings mean and a record of recent inspections. Hopefully similar apps are being cooked up that will help vet eateries in regions with health-inspection protocols less vigorous than ours.

What should I do if I get traveler's diarrhea?

Because it may be possible to follow food-safety rules strictly and still be struck down—whether it's at a sketchy dive or a four-star restaurant—there are some must-pack meds you'll need to help you bounce back. Imodium, or any other over-the-counter product containing the active ingredient loperamide, may help control diarrhea. Spak says you should take diarrhea seriously, making sure you treat it yourself or seek medical help because it can lead to dehydration and other serious conditions. Before you leave for your trip, ask your doctor if she'll prescribe an antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin, and whether taking an antibiotic along with loperamide is appropriate for you. Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest so you can enjoy the remainder of your vacation. Although travelers' diarrhea can last several days, it's usually not dangerous if treated properly. But if your TD is accompanied by a fever of 101˚F or higher, bleeding, or severe abdominal pain, see a doctor—there may be something more serious afoot and you'll likely have to stop taking loperamide.

It's also worth remembering that you can get TD-like symptoms from a major change in your diet—which is what can happen when you take an exotic trip. If you're a relatively healthy eater who switches to an all-ice-cream-and-chorizo meal plan the minute you're away from home, don't blame the restaurant or street vendor for your bellyache!

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5 Unusually Dangerous—and 5 Especially Safe—Places to Drive

Regardless how "streetwise" you are at home, "streetwise" means something very different when the streets you're traveling are unlit or risky ribbons of roads, clinging to a cliff top. In many parts of the world, roads are poorly maintained and you'll have to share the lane with beasts, bikes, and abandoned vehicles. Even here in America, there are places where drivers should pay extra attention to the road. We wanted to get to the bottom of exactly where caution should be taken, and found five places with perils you may not have ever considered, from South American back roads with poor track records to the most dangerous driving destinations in the U.S. We've also found five destinations that are a delight to drive, from shiny European superhighways to some of the finest roads in the Americas. So, whichever direction you're headed in, buckle up and have a safe trip. SEE THE BEST PLACES TO BE ON—AND OFF—THE ROAD 5 Unusually Dangerous Places to Drive JohannesburgCarjacking capital of the worldSouth Africa has some of Africa's most beautiful coastline, a stunning subtropical climate, and an abundance of wildlife. It also has one of the world's highest rates of carjackings. According to police statistics, 10,627 carjackings occurred in the country of 50 million last year—half in tiny Gauteng Province, home to Johannesburg and Pretoria. But before you cancel your flight, keep in mind that most victims are not seriously injured and that there are things you can do to decrease your carjacking odds. The situation is so dire that residents can legally attach small flamethrowers to cars to repel carjackers (this is definitely not standard on rental cars). Less extreme precautions include watching for signs marking "carjacking blackspots or hotspots," keeping doors locked while driving, and not stopping for apparent accidents, vehicles that have broken down, or even cars with blue lights—they're not necessarily police. Weigh up whether to stop at red lights in high-risk areas, especially at night; risk a fine instead of a hijack. More than 8.3 million people visited South Africa last year, over 432,000 of them from the Americas. Well over a third of those visitors from the Americas were repeat visitors, proving South Africa's appeal outweighs its potential risks. MississippiThe nation's most dangerous roadsIf you're making for Mississippi, slow down and buckle up. Statistically, with almost 27 road deaths per 100,000 Mississippians, the state languishes at the bottom of the list in the U.S. when it comes to safe roads. Unlit rural roads, high speeds, and lack of seatbelt usage are prime culprits. More than half of those who died on Mississippi's roads in 2010 were not wearing a seatbelt and, according to a Reader's Digest study, Mississippi was one of the deadliest states due to speeding. It is also one of 11 states where texting while driving is not against the law (though it is illegal if you are driving with a learning permit or temporary license). The state senate approved bans on texting as well as using handheld phones while driving in 2011, but the bills were rejected by the House Judiciary Committee in July 2012. Back Roads of BoliviaSome of the world's most perilous back roadsThe quality of back roads of Bolivia is far from what we're used to in the US. The landlocked South American nation's thoroughfares tend to be narrow, two-lane roads with bone-jarring potholes, no shoulder, aggressive drivers, and a melee of donkeys, ox carts, dogs, horses, and pedestrians sharing roadways. One—North Yungas Road—has been nicknamed "El Camino del Muerte." In other words, Road of Death, due to the shocking numbers of buses, cars, and trucks that have plunged over the edge and into the valleys below. Clinging to near sheer cliff-faces, with no guardrails and 2,600-foot drops yawning below, the road has become notorious for its high death count. A sliver of a 43-mile track built by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s, El Camino has claimed thousands of victims as it snakes its way round hairpin bends from capital La Paz to the Amazon town of Coroico. PennsylvaniaThe deadliest animal in North AmericaEvery year, there are about 1 million collisions with deer on U.S. roads, more than 100,000 of them in Pennsylvania, where the odds of hitting a deer are one in 86. The deadliest month for deer collisions is November, when male deer have fighting and mating on their minds. So turn up your high beams and watch for posted deer crossing signs, particularly between 6 and 9 p.m. While deer hit the headlines in Pennsylvania as well as neighboring West Virginia, Alaska had a grim bumper winter for moose collisions. By February, over 600 winter moose collisions had been recorded. Back on the East Coast, New Hampshire is a bad state to be a moose, with around 250 moose-car encounters annually; a hefty figure considering the state's moose population is only 6,000 strong. IndiaRoads with the most chaos—and the most cowsNotorious for its chaotic traffic, India might well be the most terrifying place to drive. Gargantuan traffic jams, six cars crammed into the three lanes, and a complete disregard for traffic signs and markings: These are just a few of the travel hazards you'll face on India's city streets. The noise of car horns is deafening as streets seethe with cars, cows, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians. Outside the cities, ancient, precariously held-together vehicles hurtle along poorly maintained roads at breakneck speed. Drivers often leave car lights off at night when driving poorly or unlit streets and sometimes shut off engines completely when going down hills. If you have to drive in India—it's an experience you'll never forget. 5 Especially Safe Places to Drive CanadaFirst choice for first-time driving outside the U.S.An ideal choice for first-time driving outside the U.S., our neighbor to the north drives on the same side of the road as we do and road signage is in English in 12 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories. The exception to this is the staunchly French-speaking province of Quebec, where other than some bilingual signs in Montreal, road signs are exclusively in French. Canada's roads are safer than south of the border, with a 8.8 in 100,000 chance of being killed on the roads, compared with the U.S., where odds are 14 in 100,000. Just remember that road signs are in kilometers, not miles. NorwayOne of the lowest rates of traffic fatalities in the worldWith one of the lowest rates of traffic fatalities in the world, Norway is another excellent driving destination. Factors responsible for the Nordic nation's stellar safety record include very strict rules about mobile phone use, keeping headlights on at all times, safety gear you must have in your car, and even the types of tires you must use. At 0.02 percent, Norway's is also one of the lowest blood alcohol limits, although the low figure doesn't concern all that many Norwegians. One survey found that 91 percent of Norwegians wouldn't drink any alcohol at all if driving. GermanyLife in the fast laneIf you think driving in Germany involves careening along hair-raising (or exhilarating, depending on your attitude) 20-lane, speed-limit-free autobahns, think again. In fact, a third of the autobahn has speed limits—some as low as 37 mph—and many look much like four-lane highways back home. Almost 2,000 miles of the nearly 8,000-mile autobahn network has "dynamic speed limits," adjusted to match traffic and weather conditions. Whether you're in a section with a speed limit or not, Germany keeps roads safe with strict rules, including stringent vehicle inspections, obligatory third-party liability coverage, and a point system that keeps dangerous drivers off the road. All cars must carry specific safety and first-aid equipment, and switch to snow tires in winter—or face steep penalties. Once you've got all that in place, driving in Germany is a pleasure; roads are impeccably maintained using high-tech road scanners, and feature landscaped medians, long acceleration and deceleration lanes, gentle curves, and freeze-resistant surfaces. You might just want to slow down to enjoy the drive. ItalyWorking to become one of Europe's safest places to get behind the wheelGiven myriad movie images of chaotic, narrow, twisting Vespa-crammed Italian streets, it might be a surprise to see Italy listed as a safe place to drive. But Italy has successfully put the brakes on the once-soaring road accident and fatality statistics that even provoked Pope Benedict to issue "Ten Commandments" for safer driving. Now, Italy has raced from a position as one of Europe's more dangerous places to be on the road (or sidewalk) to one of its safer options. New laws introduced heftier fines for driving with blood-alcohol levels of 0.05 percent or for being on the road without a reflective safety vest in your car. Now, convicted drug users have their licenses revoked if they are caught driving under the influence of drugs. Whether it's the new traffic laws or the might of the Pope's car commandments, deaths on Italian roads have decreased 43.7 percent in the last decade. PanamaSome of Latin America's safest roadsWith 1,000 miles of coastline, 1,500 islands, and 954 bird species, you're going to want to drive to see this stunning country of 2.8 million. It has a land area smaller than South Carolina, so you can easily drive to a slew of scenic spots; the canal is just 20 minutes from Panama City, while the rain forest is a 45-minute drive, and Pacific Coast beaches are only 90 minutes away. With the exception of gridlocked Panama City, Panama has some of Latin America's best roads. The modern, four-lane Pan-American Highway crosses the western side of Panama, from the capital to the second-largest city, Colón, with a plethora of gas stations and eateries en route. Once you veer off the major highways, however, roads are not always well maintained. That said, there was a 47 percent decrease in road accidents between 2010 and 2011 according to the National Department of Transit, and continuing efforts are underway to improve roads, plus plans to install helpful road signage toward sites of interest to visitors.

Family

12 Awe-Inspiring American Castles

Who doesn't go a bit giddy at the sight of a castle? The good news is that you don't have to head to Europe for honest-to-goodness ones of the Cinderella variety—we have plenty right here in our own backyard. Railroad barons commissioned most of these estates, but at least one housed a legitimate king and queen (bet you didn't know this country had its own history of royalty!). Each is an engineering wonder in its own right, with some even constructed out of old-world castles that were shipped across the ocean. And each is open to tours should you decide to make a trip (a select few will even let you spend the night). Read this and you might just discover a side of America you never knew existed. SEE THE 12 AWE-INSPIRING CASTLES 1. GREY TOWERS CASTLE  Most colleges contend to be fortresses of learning, but Arcadia University in the suburbs north of Philadelphia can back it up with battlements acquired in 1929. Grey Towers was built by eclectic sugar refiner William Welsh Harrison between 1893 and 1898 and modeled after Northumberland's Alnwick Castle (a.k.a. the most archetypal expression of the medieval style). The 40 rooms wowed with gilded ceilings, tapestries, ornamental paintings, and hand-carved walnut and mahogany woodwork in styles from French Renaissance to Louis XV—and of course a Mirror Room—while secret passages behind fireplaces and underground tunnels. Self-guided tours of public areas are possible while classes are in session (the building now contains dorm rooms and administration offices). Free brochures outline the history. 450 South Easton Rd., Glenside, PA, 215/572-2900, arcadia.edu. 2.'IOLANI PALACE  Other properties on this list may be bigger and more lavish, but the 'Iolani Palace has one thing above them all: legitimacy. America's only true palace—as in, royalty resided here—was built from 1879 to 1882 by King Kalakua and Queen Kapi'olani. The goal was to enhance the prestige of modern Hawaii in a kind of Victorian-era keeping up with the Joneses. (The palace had electricity and a telephone even before the White House.) Stone-faced with plenty of koa wood inside, the two-floor American Florentine–style building includes a throne room, grand hall, and private suites, including the upstairs room where the queen was imprisoned for five months following the 1895 coup. Today, concerted efforts are underway to find artifacts and furniture (like the king's ebony and gilt bedroom set) that were auctioned off by the post-coup Provisional Government. 364 South King St., Honolulu, HI, 808/522-0832, iolanipalace.org. Admission $12, guided tour $20. 3. HAMMOND CASTLE  Like a modern-day Frankenstein's castle on Massachusetts's rocky Atlantic shore, Abbadia Mare (Abbey by the Sea) served as both home and laboratory for prolific inventor John Hayes Hammond Jr. after it was completed in 1929. Hammond is largely credited as the "Father of the Radio Control," as in tanks and planes and remote-controlled cars. He was also a lover of medieval art, and the castle was designed to showcase his collection. The building itself is a blend of 15th-, 16th-, and 18th-century styles, including a great hall with elaborate rose windows and pipe organ plus a courtyard featuring a two-story meat market/wine merchant's house brought over from southern France. And, yes, like any proper mad scientist, he made sure there were secret passageways. Self-guided tours are available along with annual Renaissance Faire fund-raisers, psychic gatherings, and spooky Halloween events. 80 Hesperus Ave., Gloucester, MA, 978/283-2080, hammondcastle.org. Admission $10. 4. FONTHILL CASTLE  Celebrating its centennial in 2012, the former home of industrialist-turned-archaeologist Henry Mercer is an ode to artisanship: All 44 rooms (10 bathrooms, five bedrooms, and 200 windows), 32 stairwells, 18 fireplaces, and 21 chimneys are hewn from hand-mixed reinforced concrete in a mishmash of medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine styles. Thousands of handcrafted ceramic tiles were inset throughout, including Mercer's own Moravian-style tiles plus Persian, Chinese, Spanish, and Dutch productions he collected. Today, the 60-acre Bucks County estate serves as a museum to pre-industrial life, with 900 American and European prints at Fonthill and even more artifacts (like a whale boat and Conestoga wagon) in its sister building, the Mercer Museum, a fun house–like six-story castle in its own right. East Court St. and Rt. 313, Doylestown, PA, 215/348-9461, mercermuseum.org. Admission $12. 5. CASTELLO DI AMOROSA  Word to the wise: Imbibe the cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio at the Castello di Amorosa winery carefully, because somewhere in the 121,000-square-foot, 107-room, eight-level complex there's a dungeon with a functional Renaissance-era iron maiden. It took 14 years to construct the castle using historically accurate medieval building techniques. The end result is an "authentic" 12th- and 13th-century Tuscan castle with drawbridge and moat. The frescoes in the Great Hall and Knights' Chamber are hand-painted, some 8,000 tons of Napa Valley stone hand-chiseled, the Hapsburg-era bricks, hand-forged nails and chandeliers, and 500-year-old fireplace all tediously imported from Europe. That sense of awe? Very modern. 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA, 707/967-6272, castellodiamorosa.com. Admission $18, including wine tasting. 6. BOLDT CASTLE  What do you do when you come across a heart-shaped isle while vacationing with your wife in the Thousand Islands? If you're upstart industrialist George Boldt, you buy it and hire 300 stonemasons, carpenters, and artists to build a six-story, 120-room testament to your love. There were Italian gardens, a dove-cote, and a turreted powerhouse, plus all the imported Italian marble, French silks, and Oriental rugs money could buy. But when his wife Louise died in 1904, the heartbroken Boldt ceased construction on the Rhineland-style Taj Mahal and left it to the elements for 73 years. Today, tourists can visit from May to October for self-guided tours—or book a wedding in the stone gazebo. +44° 20' 40.29" N, -75° 55' 21.27" W, Heart Island, Alexandria Bay, NY, 315/482-9724, boldtcastle.com. Admission $8. 7. GILLETTE CASTLE  It's elementary: Get famous (and rich) by playing Sherlock Holmes on the stage; build your own Baskerville Hall. Pet project of campy eccentric William Hooker Gillette, the 24-room castle was completed in 1919 by a crew of 20 men over five years using the actor/playwright's own drafts and designs. It's also the focal point of his 184-acre Seventh Sister estate, a forested bluff overlooking the Connecticut River. Outside, the local fieldstone reads like crumbling medieval; inside, the built-in couches, curious detailing, and inventive hand-carved southern white oak woodwork is all arts and crafts. As for cat images? There are 60. (Gillette had 17 feline friends.) Gillette Castle State Park, 67 River Rd., East Haddam, CT, 860/526-2336, ct.gov. Grounds open year-round; interior tours available Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Admission $6. 8. OHEKA CASTLE  Second behind Asheville's Biltmore as the largest private estate in the nation, OHEKA—an acronym of Otto Herman Kahn, its millionaire financier original owner—ended up abandoned in the late 1970s and sustained extensive damage from fires, vandals, and neglect. After a 20-year renovation, it's back in form and is now a 32-room luxury hotel. Think Downton Abbey just an hour from Manhattan (themed packages available), or for that matter, Citizen Kane (photos of it were used in the film). Originally set on 443 acres, massive tons of earth were moved to make the hilltop location of the 127-room, 109,000-square-foot manse the highest point in Long Island. The Olmsted Brothers planned the formal gardens, the Grand Staircase was inspired by Fontainebleau's famous exterior one, and 126 servants tended to the six-person family when they came for weekends and summers. The 1919 price tag: $11 million. That's $110 million in today's money. Sounds about right for a man whose likeness inspired Mr. Monopoly. 135 West Gate Dr., Huntington, NY, 631/659-1400, oheka.com. Admission $25. Double rooms from $395 per night. Guided tours available. 9. BISHOP'S PALACE  Of all the Gilded Age Victorians built by Nicholas Clayton along Galveston's Gulf Coast, the Bishop's Palace (née Gresham Castle, 1893, after its original owner, Santa Fe railroad magnate Walther Gresham) remains the grandest—and not just because its steel and stone hulk survived the Great Storm of 1900. Its small lot and oversized proportions with château-esque detailing of steeply peaked rooflines and sculptural chimneys still dominate the street, while inside the 14-foot coffered ceilings, 40-foot octagonal mahogany stairwell, stained glass, plaster carvings, and Sienna marble columns exude richness. Keep a lookout for the bronze dragon sculptures. After serving as a Catholic bishop's residence for 50 years, the house is now open for tours. Book a private guide to see the usually off-limits third floor. 1402 Broadway, Galveston, TX, 409/762-2475, galveston.com. Admission $10, private tours from $50. 10. CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS  Location, location, location—as important in castles to fending off conquers as forgetting Gilded Age woes. And for millionaire shoe baron Thomas Plant, that meant setting his 1914 Lucknow Estate (named after the Indian city he loved) on the rim of an extinct caldera high in the Ossipee Mountains with unbroken views over 6,300 private acres of woods and lakes. The mansion by comparison is relatively subdued: A mere 16 rooms, it's practically minuscule compared to the other castles on this list. Throughout, the arts and crafts philosophy of artisanship and living in harmony with nature is expressed in the stone walls, inventive handiwork like the jigsaw floor in the kitchen, and functional decor that eschews ostentation—all planned at Plant's 5-foot-4 height—plus a few technological innovations like a needle shower, self-cleaning oven, brine fridge, and central-vacuuming system. Much remains wholly preserved today. Route 171, 455 Old Mountain Rd., Moultonborough, NH, 603/476-5900, castleintheclouds.org. Admission $16. 11. THORNEWOOD CASTLE  It's not every day Stephen King chooses your luxury B&B as setting for his haunted-house TV miniseries Rose Red. Then again it's not every day that a 400-year-old Elizabethan manor house is dismantled brick-by-brick and shipped round Cape Horn to be incorporated into an English Tudor Gothic castle in the Pacific Northwest, as Thornewood was from 1908 to 1911. The property was a gift from Chester Thorne, one of the founders of the Port of Tacoma, to his wife and apropos of its origin, the 54-room castle is now a prime wedding venue, with antiques and artwork galore plus an Olmsted Brothers–designed garden and three acres of fir-dotted grounds overlooking American Lake. Book a room to get an inside look at the building; there are also tours and events that are occasionally open to the public. 8601 N. Thorne Lane Southwest, Lakewood, WA, 253/584-4393, thornewoodcastle.com. Double rooms from $300 per night. 12. HEARST CASTLE  Understatement of the millennium: William Randolph Hearst's 1919 directive to architect Julia Morgan to "build a little something" on his ranch in San Simeon. Then again, a 115-room "Casa Grande" inspired by a Spanish cathedral is a relatively modest proposition compared to the 250,000 acres and the 13 miles of coastline it's set on. It's when you add in the three additional Mediterranean Revival guesthouses (46 more rooms total), 127 acres of gardens, the Neptune pool with authentic Roman temple pediment, the zoo with roaming reindeer and zebra, Egyptian Sekhmet statues on the terraces, and the private airstrip that things get a bit over-the-top. Magnificent doesn't begin to describe the museum-quality artwork, which drove the architecture as much as anything, from Renaissance statuary to Gothic tapestries and entire ceilings, nor the palatial scale of the publishing magnate's vision for "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill)—still unfinished upon his death in 1951. 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, CA, 800/444-4445, hearstcastle.org. Admission from $25.

New England's "Other" Capes

“There’s no mini-golf here, that’s for sure,” says Tony Sapienza, making the inevitable comparison between rugged Cape Ann—where he owns a beachside inn—and its better-known cousin, Cape Cod. He notes that Gloucester, Mass., a tight-knit fishing community on Cape Ann just 45 minutes north of Boston, still has rusting fishing boats in its harbor. “And people like it that way,” he says. SEE THE "OTHER" CAPES! If you’re looking for authentic New England without the throngs, Gloucester is a good place to start. The oldest fishing port in the U.S., it’s a sea-sprayed, weather-beaten place where you can still watch wader-wearing tuna fishermen pull their boats up to Cape Pond Ice’s storage shed. Getting a glimpse of that kind of realness is exactly what visitors to these parts crave. It’s certainly what I was looking for in my quest to discover New England’s “other" capes jutting out from the coast between Boston and Portland, Maine. I found expansive beaches with frothy seas, wonderfully old-fashioned Main Streets, historic lighthouses on stunningly scenic promontories, and some of the freshest locally sourced meals around. It just goes to show that while these other capes may be less glorified, they are no less glorious. DAY 1 Boston to Cape Ann 40 miles Cape Ann, as people here like to tell you, is a locals’ haven that just happens to welcome a fair share of tourists. On a summer day you’re likely to find many of them at Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach. “People are very into their community here,” says Geraldine Benjamin, a teacher from Sturbridge, Mass., who spends weekends and summers in Gloucester. “I love the local art and the fishing.” She watches as her daughter and granddaughter frolic on this wide stretch of fine, white sand edged by dunes and a gurgling creek leading into a frothy pocket of the Atlantic. At low tide, the ocean delivers a swirl of crystalline tide pools just made for budding marine biologists to explore. I treasure a perfect view of the beach from my room directly across the street at the Blue Shutters Beachside Inn (1 Nautilus Rd, Gloucester, Mass., blueshuttersbeachside.com, rooms from $125), owned by Sapienza, his wife Patty, and their friends AnneMarie and Ed Comer. In the cool of the evening I cozy up with hot tea and cookies, sitting in front of a fire in the inn’s living room—a homey space with wood floors, damask sofas, embroidered pillows, and massive picture windows looking out at Good Harbor. A sign over the fireplace reminds me to Dream, a nod to the owners’ leap into their new lives as innkeepers. Like many visitors, they were drawn to Cape Ann partly by Rocky Neck, a nearby artists’ colony where you can soak up the sumptuous light that has drawn artists including Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer. Today, a diverse crew lives and works here, welcoming the curious into their studios. In fact, the art scene is so buzzy that when I ask local artist and gallery owner Gordon Goetemann to tell me about Rocky Neck’s heyday, he says—now! “I arrived here as an apprentice,” he recalls. “That was 1954. The season used to end when the pipes started to freeze, but now some residents are here 12 months out of the year.” Before heading up the coast, I stop in downtown Gloucester for a fat eggplant sub, stuffed with roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella, at Virgilio’s Bakery & Deli (29 Main St., Gloucester, Mass., 978/283-5295, sub sandwich $6), and then visit the town’s most famous landmark: the Fishermen’s Memorial Statue, a 1925 bronze of a fisherman at the wheel, in honor of Gloucester natives—like those in the 1991 “perfect storm”—who’ve died at sea. The memorial, overlooking the sweeping outer harbor, makes a peaceful, poignant final stop. DAY 2 Cape Ann to Cape Neddick 67 miles Heading north from Cape Ann on Route 1A, a swath of coastal wetlands puts the ocean out of view for a while. I cruise past antiques shops, horse farms, and young boys in cutoffs jumping into narrow waterways. Arriving at Salisbury Beach is a shock after peaceful Cape Ann. It’s a pure honky-tonk beach scene, but in such a nostalgic, living-museum way that it’s worth a stop. Clutches of kids feast on cotton candy and soft-serve cones and boardwalk signs announce Happy’s Fried Dough and Corn Dogs. New Hampshire’s 18-mile coastline is next, and it’s short but sweet. Stop at the 135-acre Odiorne Point State Park (Route 1A, Rye, N.H., nhstateparks.org), where you can hike or bike along wooded trails, explore rocky tidepools, and drop in at the Seacoast Science Center. Here, inquisitive kids can climb into fishing-boat exhibits and stand under a complete whale skeleton. Before crossing into Maine, grab a bite in Portsmouth, which is brimming with good food, like The Flatbread Company’s signature pizza—you can watch it baking in a wood-fire oven (138 Congress St., Portsmouth, N.H., flatbread company.com, pizza from $8.75). The next cape, Maine’s Cape Neddick, extends one mile from Route 1 to the coast. I arrive just before dusk, excited to settle in at Dixon’s Campground (1740 U.S. Route 1, Cape Neddick, Maine, dixonscampground.com, camper with water and electricity $40/night). It’s set in a shady thicket and is completely peaceful, with nothing but the rustle of the wind in the trees and the faint French murmurings of Quebecois guests lulling me to sleep in my tent. For those seeking a more solid roof over their heads, the Kathadin Inn, a 19th century guesthouse, is right on the beach in nearby York (11 Ocean Ave., York, Maine, thekatahdininn.com, doubles from $105). DAY 3 Cape Neddick to Cape Porpoise to Cape Elizabeth 56 miles When I step onto the wet sand at Cape Neddick’s Long Sands Beach—a putty-colored expanse in the nostalgia-laced small town of York, a 10-minute drive from my campground—it’s so shockingly icy (in midsummer!) that I don’t even dip a toe into the ocean. But it doesn’t stop hardy Mainers, who bob and swim and bodysurf as if they’re in the Caribbean. The beach’s tidepools are rich with periwinkles, and the crowded beach feels surprisingly empty thanks to what I’m told is an only-in-Maine phenomenon: folks sitting just about as far back from the water as they possibly can in anticipation of the rising tide. “We just don’t want to move,” chuckles Joe Sousa, a Boston-area native who’s been vacationing here for 40 years. From the beach I’m drawn to a view in the distance of a rocky peninsula leading to the dramatic 1879 Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse. Though you can’t go inside—it sits perched on its own tiny, rocky island—a park created in its honor draws a steady crowd of visitors who photograph, paint, or in my case just stare at the sea spray, the Hopper-esque beacon, and its dainty keeper’s house perched precariously on a cliff. Two very much on-the-radar towns are next, but I skirt most of their gravitational pull. In artsy Ogunquit, refuel with a panini on fresh focaccia at Bread and Roses Bakery (246 Main St.,  Ogunquit, Maine, breadandrosesbakery.com, panini $8) and stroll along Marginal Way, an oceanfront footpath edging the town’s coastal cliffs. Then comes Kennebunkport, of preppy, Bush-family fame. You should make a beeline to the quieter side of town, a bucolic fishing community on Cape Porpoise—home to Pier 77, with waterside tables that provide views of the working lobster boats in Cape Porpoise Harbor. Local friends sang the praises of the Lobster Shack at Two Lights, in tony Cape Elizabeth, renowned for its classic New England split-top lobster roll. But first I savor a gem of a mile-long hike in Biddeford Pool at East Point Sanctuary (18 Ocean Ave., Biddeford, Maine, sacobaytrails.org), through stands of pine and sugar maples, ending at a rocky beach where I finally get up the nerve to wade into the exhilaratingly chilly water. Then it’s dinner at the Lobster Shack (225 Two Lights Rd., Cape Elizabeth, Maine, lobstershacktwolights.com, lobster roll market price), where I get a table on a rocky bluff flush with the Atlantic, breeze in my face. They say “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” Delightful indeed.

Inspiration

Take a Heartland Road Trip!

His great-great-grandfather founded the town in the late 1880s. At its pre-WWII peak, the population of Nenzel, Nebraska, reached 125. Today, it’s got all of 13 people. But that hasn’t stopped Neal Nollette, a Roman Catholic priest, from launching an outfitting company, 2 the Ends of the Earth, which runs river trips down a cliff-lined stretch of the Niobrara that’s often short of—well, water. SEE OUR HEARTLAND ROAD TRIP! To bypass that inconvenient truth, Nollette invented the sport of “nyobrafting,” which he defines as navigating a waterway by any method necessary, though in practice it means repeatedly climbing out of your kayak and dragging it across the river’s many sandbars. As Father Neal says, “If you have a little bit of imagination and creativity, you can turn almost anything into a business.” Welcome to the Sandhills, home to whooping cranes and prairie chickens, cowboys and cattle, plus some of the more ingenious tourism attractions either side of the Mississippi. Like much of the nation, these remote, sparsely settled grasslands—rolling some 19,000 square miles across north central Nebraska and reaching as high as 400 feet—have been hit by economic tough times. But the can-do spirit that built this country runs deep in these parts. Ever been to a 300-mile-long yard sale (known as the annual Junk Jaunt)? Or an art show that makes a stop at the Sinclair gas station in Dunning, where hand-crafted pottery shares the shelves with the Hamburger Helper and pickles? In a word: delicious. DAY 1 Omaha to Burwell 193 miles “Where the West begins and the East peters out,” reads the restaurant sign my son and I spy in Burwell, home to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo. After a four-hour drive from Omaha, we’re ready for some cowpoke action. At the Northside Bar and Cafe, around the corner from the Dry Creek Western Wear store and saddle shop, a man in a white cowboy hat plays gin rummy with his buddies at a corner table (223 Grand Ave., Burwell, 308/346-5474). We’ve dropped by to see the hundreds of photos, posters, and other memorabilia decorating the walls of the pub’s rodeo museum. Perhaps other picture galleries double as a saloon, but surely this is the only one serving bull calf testicles. “Last Friday, we sold a whole case,” says Tammy Miller, waitress, bartender, and occasional curator. “Breaded and deep fried.” Thankfully, my son is hankering for something sweet. We’re directed to the Sandstone Grill in the old tin-ceilinged Burwell Hotel, where two foodies—sisters who moved here from Seattle and Kansas City—serve a long list of salads (Caesar, Asian, “sweet blue,” etc.) along with Nebraskan classics like sour cream raisin pie, which we order à la mode (416 Grand Ave., Burwell, 308/346-4582, sandstonegrill.com). Sunlight is starting to wane as we reach Calamus Outfitters, near Nebraska’s third-largest swimming hole, Calamus Reservoir. We toss our bags into our rustic lodge room on the grounds of the Switzer Ranch, then hightail it outside for a sunset Jeep tour of 12,000 acres of grazing cattle (83720 Valleyview Ave., Burwell, 308/346-4697, calamusoutfitters.com). Lying on the central flyway of some 500,000 cranes and 10 million other migratory water fowl, these are the Sandhills at their prettiest, dipping and rising like a roller coaster, blanketed with bluestems and tall bunchgrasses. In spring, you can watch the sharp-tailed grouse strut their stuff during their elaborate predawn mating dance. In summertime, there’s tubing and horseback riding. In the morning when I ask what we can do to help around the ranch, we’re told to saddle up and spend the next several hours rounding up stray cattle. DAY 2 Burwell to Mullen 112 miles The late Charles “On the Road” Kuralt counted Highway 2, running alongside the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and a seemingly endless row of black-eyed susans and golden sunflowers, among America’s 10 most beautiful routes. We pick it up in Dunning and follow it west through what was once the Pawnee and Sioux tribes’ bison-hunting range. In Mullen, we have a date with Glidden Canoe Rental to go “tanking”—a popular Nebraskan sport that consists of floating down a river in a livestock watering tank. Some tanks come with picnic tables and lawn chairs. Ours is nine feet in diameter, made of galvanized tin, and outfitted with benches. Even with paddles, we’re at the Middle Loup River’s mercy. A red-tailed hawk soars overhead as the current crashes us into the bank, tangling us up in fallen branches. Eventually I learn it’s less jarring if I sit upright, not touching the sides of the tank. My son does just the opposite, naturally. Apparently what I call whiplash, he calls fun (Off Highway 2, Mullen, 308/546-2206, gliddencanoe rental.com). Afterward, we grab a bite at the Rustic Tavern, in Mullen’s scruffy downtown. The kitchen is closed for remodeling, but the cook whips up a daily special in the smoker out back. This evening it’s BBQ brisket and the place is hopping with takers, many in boots and spurs (104 E. 1st St. Mullen, 308/546-2993). We order seconds before settling in for the night near Thedford at the Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House. There aren’t always animals, and most of the ranch is about 50 miles away, but what’s in a name? Besides, the two-bedroom place is comfy, all ours, and in the morning our host stops by with gooey cinnamon rolls (Highway 2, between Halsey and Thedford, 402/450-2268, middleloupriverranch.com). DAY 3 Mullen to Nenzel 121 miles North up Highway 83, the Sandhills take on a vast, rugged beauty, dotted with pristine lakes and spring-fed marshes and sweeping wide in every direction. In Valentine, we turn west for Nenzel and our 12-mile nyobrafting trip (402/389-2242, 2theendsoftheearth.com). It ends up taking all day, including the part where our shuttle van runs out of gas and we somehow land at Father Neal’s brother’s place to see his four-acre vineyard and the new pine-paneled wine-tasting room occupying the ground floor of his house. They don’t have a liquor license yet, nor do they have a name for their label. Still, Father Neal and his brother are optimistic that this venture (unlike the family’s erstwhile weekend cowboy cookouts) will soon be raking in the crowds. Watch out, Napa. Tiny Nenzel is on your tail!

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