Impress Your Travel Companions
Sure, you can make do with a scratchy airline pillow--if the airline still hands one out--and you'll survive if the minibar only stocks Dewar's when what you really want is Macallan. But this isn't really about making do, is it?
The right accessories help smooth out the never-ending bumpiness of modern travel; they even civilize it a bit. (Just because it's ultimately a losing battle doesn't mean we shouldn't fight the good fight.)
If nothing else, this frivolous gear will drive your seatmate mad with jealousy--and one must take one's comfort where one can.
Gourmet getaway bag: New from Built NY, the company known for stylish neoprene wine totes. builtny.com, $25, no phone orders.
Luggage tags: In a variety of patterns, some Pucci-esque, many psychedelic. From Tepper Jackson. 800/227-0314, plumparty.com, $13.
Travel candle: By San Francisco--based ElizabethW; scents include hyacinth and magnolia. 800/781-6126, elizabethw.com, $20.
Eye masks: L.A.-based Strawberry Jim has 18 styles ranging from the cute to the hilarious (such as one that says i'm with stupid, which works best when you're flying alone). 213/278-7127, strawberryjim.com, $25.
Flask: Designed by Carl Mertens, in brushed stainless steel, from legendary Manhattan store Moss. 866/888-6677, mossonline.com, $100.
Towelettes: Herban Essentials wipes are antibacterial, antiseptic, and gentle on skin. And they come individually wrapped. 805/565-0273, herbanessentials.com, $14.
Slippers: Quilted silk with suede soles and a travel pouch, from Hong Kong luxury brand Shanghai Tang; in pink and navy. 888/252-8264, shanghaitang.com, $70.
Alarm clock: Muji's travel alarm folds into an aluminum case the size of a business-card holder. 800/447-6662, momastore.org, $28.
Photo frame: Aspinal of London's travel frames are calf leather with a moiré silk lining. 888/325-3302, aspinaloflondon.com, $65 (includes shipping from the U.K.).
Scrabble folio travel edition: The small, ridged board holds tiles steady--particularly useful on turbulent flights. 800/843-2665, barnesandnoble.com, $15.
Passport case: Graphic Image's covers are made from ultrasoft Moroccan goatskin: Because you want to make a nice impression on the immigration officers. 800/232-5550, graphicimagenewyork.com, $38.
Pillow set: Satori Comfort Sets come with a microbead pillow, a matching fleece blanket, and a heavy-duty plastic carrying case. 212/206-0421, satoripillows.com, $70.
Have a Posh Picnic
Like Christmas, a successful picnic has two essential parts: the anticipation and the unwrapping. The longer you wait, the better everything tastes--and that's true whether you're in the Jardin du Luxembourg or the coach cabin on United. Likewise, even the most mundane morsels improve by being packaged with flair. This is no reason to skimp on the food, however. The following gourmet stores have the fixings to make the wait worthwhile and packaging skills to rival those of Santa's elves. (If you're picnicking in coach, go easy on the stinky cheese; it can be worse than Doritos.) Barcelona: Queviures Múrria, selling fancy provisions since 1898. Calle Roger de Llúria 85, 011-34/93-215-5789. Berlin: KaDeWe, a department store where the sixth floor stocks 33,000 edibles. 21-24 Tauentzienstrasse, 011-49/30-21210. London: World-famous Harrods, which has five grand food halls. 87-135 Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge, 011-44/20-7730-1234. Milan: Peck, a food hall the size of a city block. Via Spadari 9, 011-39/02-802-3161. New York City: Dean & Deluca, SoHo's original gourmet store. 560 Broadway, 212/226-6800. Paris: Fauchon, where everything comes packaged ever-so-prettily in pink. 26 place de la Madeleine, 011-33/1-70-39-38-00. Rome: Franchi, a remarkable high-end deli. Via Cola di Rienzo 200, 011-39/06-687-4651. San Francisco: Ferry Building Marketplace, an organic arcade. 415/693-0996. Sydney Jones the Grocer, Down Under's finest. 68 Moncur St., 011-61/2-9362-1222. Tokyo: Takashimaya Times Square, where there's a mind-boggling basement food hall. 5-24-2 Sendagaya, 011-81/3-5361-1111. Vancouver: Meinhardt Fine Foods, opened 10 years ago by former caterer Linda Meinhardt. 3002 Granville St., 604/732-4405.
Spoil the Kids a Little
We pity parents. (Except the ones who don't train their kids to stop kicking the back of our seats. Those parents we have words for.) Because parents know they shouldn't spoil their kids--that's the grandparents' job--but how can they not every now and then? You bring these little people into the world and all you want to do is make them happy every single minute, but if you do the kids turn rancid. And yet: The look on a child's face when he or she gets to do something special, well, it's magical. As they get older, especially in the dreaded adolescence, it's to be savored. Chicago: Brunch at American Girl Cafe--dolls and adults welcome, too. American Girl Place, 877/247-5223, americangirlplace.com, $18. Las Vegas: Ride shotgun in a real stock car driven by a professional instructor. Ages 14 and up. Richard Petty Driving Experience, 800/237-3889, 1800bepetty.com, $99. Los Angeles: Appear on the cover of a Marvel comic book (alongside Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk) at the California Science Center. California Science Center, 323/724-3623, californiasciencecenter.org, $9.75, kids $7.75, photo $10, through Labor Day. Monterey: Surface scuba dive in Monterey Bay's great tide pool for an up close look at sea stars and monkeyface eels. Monterey Bay Aquarium, 866/963-9646, mbayaq.org, $79. New York City: Have tea with crumpets at the Madeline Tea in Bemelmans' Bar, named for Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline books (he painted the bar's murals). The Carlyle, 212/744-1600, thecarlyle.com, $31, kids $24, Friday--Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Philadelphia: Camp overnight at the Franklin Institute with live science demonstrations and arts and crafts projects; snacks and breakfast included. 215/448-1114, fi.edu, $41. Portland: Sleep over at the Oregon Zoo (on a Saturday night around Valentine's Day) without parents. Dinner, snack, and breakfast are included; sleeping bag required. 503/226-1561, oregonzoo.org, $45. Tampa: Scuba dive with 1,700 animals native to Florida and the Caribbean. Ages 6 and up. Florida Aquarium, 813/273-4000, flaquarium.org, $75. Washington, D.C.: Go on a scavenger hunt at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Ages 7 and up. Watson Adventures, 877/946-4868, watsonadventures.com, $10.
12 Mysterious Underground Tours
A Nazi hideoutAn ordinary door in Berlin's Gesundbrunnen train station leads to an abandoned air raid shelter that reveals Berlin's dark underbelly: an array of secret bunkers, escape tunnels—even an aircraft factory—built by the Nazi regime during WWII and expanded during the Cold War. Berlin Underworlds' Association, 011-49/30-4991-0517, berliner-unterwelten.de, 90-minute tour $13. Paranormal activityInch through cramped corridors dug below Edinburgh's South Bridge in the 1700s that were originally used as storage spaces by merchants. The corridors became a crowded slum and eventually a rumored dumping ground for murder victims, which may explain why more than a few visitors have reported paranormal sightings in these creepy, claustrophobic passageways. Mercat Tours, 011-44/131-225-5445, mercattours.com, 75-minute tour $12. Water worldThe Basilica Cistern, which once supplied water to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, is a cavernous space outfitted with imposing domed ceilings and towering Corinthian columns—two are mounted on giant Medusa head bases, one of which is inexplicably facing upside down. Five additional subterranean cisterns (some ruined, some restored) are explored on this tour. Les Arts Turcs Tours, 011-90-212-527-6859, bazaarturkey.com, 4-5-hour tour $37. Herod was hereAncient tunnels beneath the heart of Jerusalem's Old City expose layers of the Western Wall, including a gigantic 570-ton stone—one of the heaviest objects ever lifted without machinery. Visitors can see the remnants of the temple built by King Herod about 2,050 years ago, and walk along a road that ran next to the temple in Herod's time. Book tours at least two months in advance. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, 011-972/2-627-1333, english.thekotel.org, 75-minute tour $7. Even the graffiti's oldA gate hidden in an alleyway behind Naples's Piazza San Gaetano reveals a network of nearly 250 miles of caves and tunnels constructed two millennia ago. Still lying among the ruins are a Greco-Roman theater submerged underneath houses and ancient aqueducts now lined with WWII-era graffiti. Napoli Sotterranea, napolisotterranea.org, 011-39/081-296-944, two-hour tour $14. Unscheduled stopWhen it opened in 1904, the original City Hall subway station wowed commuters with its intricate brass chandeliers, leaded skylights, and arched Guastavino ceiling tiles. Today it lies forgotten beneath downtown Manhattan, seen only on this several-times-yearly tour, which includes a look at a 100-year-old train car. New York Transit Museum, 718/694-1600, mta.info/museum, one-hour tour $20 (annual museum membership required; $40 per person, $55 for a family of four). Sewer cityFans of Les Misérables are familiar with tales of vagrants hiding in the City of Light's pitch-black sewer system. Originally built in the 1200s, these Paris sewers were greatly expanded by influential civic planner Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the 1850s and today can be accessed via a museum between the Quai d'Orsay and the Seine River. Musée des Égouts, 011-33/1-53-68-27-81, parisinfo.com, one-hour tour $5.50. Illegal marketExplore a rumored entrance to the legendary Shanghai Tunnels beneath Portland's Chinatown, where transient laborers were allegedly kidnapped and sold into slavery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Historians now question whether such events actually occurred.) Look for the 1880 coal chute and the remains of a coal stoker furnace. Portland Walking Tours, 503/774/4522, portlandwalkingtours.com, two-and-a-half-hour tour $19. Dan Brown's inspirationFrom ancient Christian burial grounds to underground dungeons, enough secrets lie below Rome to form the basis of another Angels and Demons. The tour highlight is the multilayered Basilica di San Clemente, a 12th-century basilica built on top of a 4th-century church, which was built next to a 3rd-century temple. Today, all three areas can be explored. Avventure Bellissime Tours, 011-39/041-970-499, tours-italy.com, March–October, three hour tour $110. Burnt outAfter the Great Fire of 1889 destroyed 25 city blocks, Seattle rebuilt one story higher because of flood concerns, pushing the charred remains below ground level. In 1907, the underground city was condemned because of fears of bubonic plague, but today visitors can walk along sidewalks, streets, and storefronts, some still intact and some restored. Bill Speidel's Underground Tour, 206/682-4646, undergroundtour.com, 90-minute tour $15. Plot foiledThe 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, a narrow, mile-long shaft below the Korean border, was dug in secret by North Korea, apparently designed for a surprise attack on the South. Discovered by South Korea in 1978, the tunnel is just 32 miles from Seoul. Grace Travel, 011-82/2-332-8946, triptokorea.com, part of the six-hour DMZ Transit Tour $38. Through the agesBeneath the 2,500-year-old city of Vienna is a maze of medieval cellars, preserved baroque crypts, excavated Roman ruins, and underground passageways. While they were built over several centuries, many of these sites are now connected by tunnels that served as air-raid shelters during WWII. Vienna Walks & Talks, 011-43/1-774-8901, viennawalks.com, 90-minute tour $24.
Break Off a Piece of a Grand Hotel
Anyone who's ever walked by Claridge's, Raffles, or the Waldorf-Astoria has been moved by everything those names imply. But you don't have to stay there to take a bit of the glamour home with you. Every famous hotel sells stuff with its name on it. This is money terribly spent (which might just be the definition of a splurge). After all, your dog gives neither a kibble nor a bit if he's eating from a Beverly Hills Hotel bowl. And yet there's something so perfectly insouciant about that dog bowl, isn't there? Leaving it out in the backyard like "The Pink Palace" means nothing to you. You're not claiming familiarity with the hotel so much as letting a familiarity be inferred; it's a lie that's littler than little and paler than white. The charitable interpretation is that you're paying homage--to a time when a hotel name could stand for something grand. In any event, the way things are headed, all these hotels will follow in the footsteps of the Plaza and be converted into condominiums by 2015. So grab your piece now. Acapulco: Las Brisas backgammon set. Carretera Escénica 5255, 011-52/744-469-69-00, brisas.com.mx, $59. Beverly Hills: Beverly Hills Hotel ceramic dog bowl. 9641 Sunset Blvd., 310/276-2251, thebeverlyhillshotel.com, $53. Dallas: Mansion on Turtle Creek apron. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214/559-2100, mansiononturtlecreek.com, $25. Hong Kong: Peninsula teddy-bear mug. Salisbury Rd., Kowloon, 011-852/2920-2888, hongkong.peninsula.com, $16. London: Claridge's Eau de Toilette. Brook St., Mayfair, 011-44/20-7629-8860, claridges.co.uk, $73. New York City: Waldorf-Astoria tote bag. 301 Park Ave., 212/355-3000, waldorfastoria.com, $50. Palm Beach: Breakers jigsaw puzzle. 1 S. County Rd., 561/655-6611, thebreakers.com, $20. Paris: Plaza Athénée baby bootees (translation: "My first steps at the Plaza Athénée"). 25 av Montaigne, 011-33/1-53-67-66-65, plaza-athenee-paris.com, $42. Pebble Beach: Lodge at Pebble Beach cooler. 1700 17-Mile Dr., 831/647-7500, pebblebeach.com, $48. Rio de Janeiro: Copacabana Palace ceramic tumbler. Av. Atlântica 1702, 011-55/21-2548-7070, copacabanapalace.com.br, $12. Singapore: Raffles half-yard glass, with stand. 1 Beach Rd., 011-65/6337-1886, singapore-raffles.raffles.com, $54. Venice: Hotel Danieli ceramic figurine. Castello 4196, 011-39/041-522-6480, danieli.hotelinvenice.com, $36.