Locals Know Best: Washington, D.C.
You might say Washington, D.C., suffers a bit from its overexposure. With so much daily—nay, hourly—attention laser-focused on the White House, the Capitol Building, and the people who dwell there, it’s easy to forget that D.C. is a town of neighborhoods, a town of generations-old families, a town where creatives ensure vibrancy and originality on otherwise unremarkable corners and down unlikely alleys. Sunny Sumter can attest to all of that. Executive director of the DC Jazz Festival since 2009, she gravitates towards talent and anything that is, for lack of a better word, hip. Moreover, she’s a born and bred Washingtonian and a graduate of the city’s Howard University, so she has a thorough and deep-seated understanding of our nation’s capital and how it’s changed over the past few decades. We checked in with her to get the skinny on what goes on there, well beyond the bluster and chatter of Capitol Hill.
ALL THAT JAZZ
The DC JazzFest brings world-renowned artists to the city each June, and under Sunny’s watch, the dazzling array of musicians has gone well beyond traditional jazz and included artists like Common, The Roots, Maceo Parker, and plenty more. But even with the talent that she brings to town, she says, “We believe the finest jazz artists in the world live in DC.” And she’ll point you to any number of venues that back up that claim on a regular basis. Mr. Henry’s, for one, is a Capitol Hill joint that looks like an unassuming neighborhood joint from the outside, but go in and it’s a music-lover’s nirvana. Sunny loves the Wednesday night jam sessions, led by local fixtures Herb Scott and Aaron Myers. “Aaron is a comedian in addition to an amazing singer. And Herb plays loops around the sax. The sax has to work to keep up with him!” she says. “It’s a really cozy place. You always feel like you never want to leave.” The session is free, so it’s no surprise that it gets pretty crowded. She advises reserving a table ahead of time so you can eat while you’re there. And speaking of dining, The Hamilton, which fast developed a local following since it opened in 2011, features casual American fare and a subterranean music venue. “It's small enough that you can touch the artist and big enough that they can bring in big artists,” she explains. And happy hour here is not to be missed.
When she has fellow musicians in town, she always makes a point to take them to Blues Alley in Georgetown, the longest-running jazz club in D.C. “They do a great job every single week serving up the jazz in there, all forms of jazz,” she declares.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
There are several Pizzeria Paradiso outposts around the region these days, but Sunny has been going to the original brick-walled location at 21st and P for as long as she can remember, and it’s the one she’d point anyone to for a quick helping of delicious pie. The menu seems simple, barely covering a single page, but considering there are about 50 toppings to pick and choose from, you’d have a hard time not finding a perfect meal for even the pickiest eater.
One of the fun parts about eating out in D.C. is using it as an excuse to explore the neighborhoods. “People think of it as a federal city, but I think of it as a local city. It’s unique, truly a neighborhood town. You go to different neighborhoods and each has its own flavor,” she says. Ivy City, for instance, is a neighborhood in transition. Once a warehouse district, that industrial vibe has been stylishly appropriated at the rustic Tavern at the Ivy City Smokehouse, which specializes in house-smoked seafood. Its wood tables and floors and chalk-written menus give it a cool, laid-back vibe, making it a top pick for “date night” in Sunny’s book. They also have a market that offers a wildly popular takeout menu.
No market, however, is more popular than Eastern Market, the sprawling bazaar where area farmers, food purveyors, and craftspeople sell their bounty on weekends. It’s been one of Sunny’s go-to's since her college days. Staying in town for a while? Forget the grocery store and head here to stock up on everything from local cheese, bread, and produce to meats and smoked fish, or just wander the aisles and sample the tasty goods.
OUT FROM UNDER THE SMITHSONIAN’S SHADOW
Washington, D.C., is the envy of much of the rest of the nation when it comes to its museums. After all, the many branches of the Smithsonian are free to enter. Sunny's pro-tip: Don’t limit yourself to the Smithsonian, varied though its options may be. Just north of bustling Dupont Circle, the Phillips Collection is a serene and approachable space that features work by a vast array of artists and designers. “They’re so thoughtful in their installations,” she says. “And they do a good job featuring unknown and established artists, both iconic and modern, American and international. You wouldn’t even know it’s so ginormous from looking at it, but you can spend an entire day there.” Sunny admits to doing so herself. With an outside garden, a café called Tryst (“their cappuccinos are really good!”), it’s what she refers to as her “go-away spot” when she needs to get her mind off programming JazzFest for a little while. And parents, take note: There’s a kid-friendly arts and crafts room.
Sunny is an unapologetic thrift shop forager, and she recommends anyone who shares the obsession make a day trip to Savage, Maryland. This quaint town about 20 miles north of DC is home to a range of stores, some of them located in an historic cotton mill that’s been converted to a very modern shopping complex that encompasses everything from antique palaces to galleries to second-hand boutiques. She’s partial to Charity’s Closet, which sells items for $5 and donates proceeds to an affiliate shop that provides clothing to unemployed women. While you’re there, might as well make a day of it. There’s a walking trail near the river and, for when you’re ready to recuperate, Rams Head Tavern is a dependable place to refuel with elevated pub grub and craft beer. It’s one of a handful of spots in town with live music.
A Sneak Peek at the High-Tech Hotel Room of the (Near) Future
The instruction was simple enough: there was a cute robot on a sticker on the mirror at the entrance of my hotel room. If I needed a wakeup call or anything else, I could text the phone number next to the 'bot, whose name is Botlr, and voila! Done. I sent the text, and it immediately confirmed it was set. "No problem!" it continued. Then came the rest: "I'm happy to help. FYI, breakfast is available at Re:fuel from 6am to 10am. My favorite is the English muffin, egg and bacon. Basically the best way to start your day." There was a frying pan in there, too. Noted, Botlr. I don't eat bacon, but thanks. ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME, ON THE ROAD Bottl is merely one example of how hotels are incorporating smart technology into their everyday guest experiences. The Aloft property’s efforts don’t end there. In a select rooms in their 130-room Boston property, which opened in 2016 in the city’s rapidly developing Seaport district, ten are equipped with voice-activated technology, making it the first room of its kind in the industry. Guests set up use a custom app so they can use their own voice to adjust lighting, play music, surf television channels, and explore options for local attractions. And regardless of what room you stay in, anyone with the Starwood Preferred Guest awards program has access to the keyless room, which allows you to use your smartphone to unlock your room as well as bypass the desk at check-in. Add to that the fact that the 100-plus hotels around the world have put a premium on its fast, free Wi-Fi and Aloft stands as a fine example of how hotels are using implementing digital services on a variety of scales, from the full-fledged Futurama intensity to the basic, but increasingly necessary, convenience-is-king level. “In this day and age, there are blurring lines between home and away. People who are away want to feel at home," said Christy Loy, Aloft's hotel manager. "Tech is so intrinsic in our lives, from the way we watch content to setting security and lighting at home. It's part of how guests expect to live life. So at a hotel, it helps guests feel connected to what’s important to them.” The future is now at hotels around the country. From high-end luxury palaces to budget-minded chains, companies are pulling out all the stops when it comes to technology. Some digital programs and amenities are designed as a matter of convenience, others are intended to ensure guests can feel like they’re in their home away from home when they’re on the road, complete with creature comforts like one’s personal Netflix account streaming right to the television. And other initiatives yet are created to astonish. This tends to involve robots, artificial intelligence, or some other ultra-high-tech wonder. Want to do yoga in your room? Program a smart mirror to instruct you. But for the most part, it’s just hotels doing their part to keep up with the rest of our everyday lives. Deanna Ting, hotels editor at Skift, a travel trade organization and publication, commends Starwood, calling out Aloft in particular, for it being an early adopter. She notes that Marriott’s approach is to work with Legrand, Samsung, and other electronic brands to incorporate voice activation and take personalization to the next level, but these early implementations are merely just a suggestion of where the technology can go. But she warns to not to be too swept away by Jetsonian elements. “If something sounds outlandish, it probably is. In terms of guest experience, the biggest tech trend to keep an eye on is deployment of smart hotel rooms," she told me. "Some chains are doing it to various degrees. Hilton’s idea of internet of things is to put control of rooms in guest hands.” YOUR SMARTPHONE: THE KEY TO THE HOTEL ROOM OF THE FUTURE Indeed, to enhance guest experiences, Hilton’s services include choosing a room through the app, which is available to any Hilton Honors member. (The awards program is free to join.) Josh Weiss, Hilton's VP of Brand and Guest Technology, explains that the app lets you control the room before you even arrive. For instance, you can open the door, set the lighting and thermostat, which contributes to energy efficiency, as energy isn’t being wasted to heat or cool a room unnecessarily. Upon checking in, you can open the door, raise or lower the curtains, and sync the television to a personal Hulu and Netflix accounts. And as a clever thoughtful bonus, the app lets you select channels by icon instead of spending time figuring out what channels correspond to which network if you don’t feel like scrolling through the menu. And as an added convenience, the app alerts the hotel if any system isn’t working. Focusing on software, versus equipment, in the nearly million rooms of its 5000-plus hotels allows for aggressive flexibility. Weiss says Hilton is also tackling another tricky aspect of travel: exercise. Hilton’s recently implemented Five Feet To Fitness initiative lets you book a room with exercise space and equipment, even a bike. “Five Feet To Fitness transcends price-points. It’s a convenient, comfortable ways to stay fit,” he said, explaining guests can stream fitness instructions on their television. It won’t replace fitness centers, it just gives another option to guests who prefer privacy. Weiss also notes Hilton’s focus on sleep. "In terms of the Internet of Things, there are devices for white noise and sound isolation," he said. "We’re working on making them compact and scalable so guests everywhere can enjoy them.” FROM VIRTUAL REALITY TO THE REALITY OF A HOTEL STAY Best Western Hotels & Resorts, another mega-chain, uses virtual reality to allow guests to experience the hotel pre-arrival, allowing guests to see layout online and give a sense of what they’ll experience at the property. “It’s more than just a static picture, they can sense it,” said Ron Pohl, Best Western's Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. Other initiatives include using the Echo Dot to ask about the weather or request extra towels be delivered. “We’re all connected 24/7, so how can we apply that to apps, to the phone, to make it feel more like home. Expectations are set at residence, and people want the same capability when traveling,” Pohl told me. “If you come into hotel, we want to identify who you are without you having to tell us. We’re always looking at how to inform before you ask, so we ask you. Then we can send things based on what we know, like notification of a seafood special in the restaurant, or something going on in the area.” He also noted that the hotel industry is merely following trends set by other industries. “Before hotels dictated how they communicated with customers. Today customers are driving that, they decide when they want to talk to the hotel. Automation caused that. People would rather do it themselves and not rely on other humans. It adds to ease of the customer experience. We call it 'frictionless,' from booking through departure.” ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE DELIVERS REAL SERVICE Speaking of note relying on other humans, Caesars Entertainment Las Vegas Resorts implemented a 24-hour virtual concierge that can, in typical Vegas fashion, perform some over-the-top feats. Michael Marino, Chief Experience Officer, describes it as a remote control—with artificial intelligence-- for stays at over 10,000 rooms across several Las Vegas resorts. (Plans are to roll it out to the rest of the properties later this year.) Her name is Ivy and she’ll greet you with a welcoming text upon arrival. After that, she’s capable of making reservations for restaurants and each hotel's spas, booking tickets for shows, ordering food that can be delivered anywhere on the premises, even the casino floor. It’s so efficient and engaged that people have been text it soliciting advice. (“Is this outfit right for tonight?”) TripAdvisor reviews suggest guests ask for Ivy, as if it’s a human concierge. But Marino is hardly resting on his laurels. "It's quickly becoming table stakes. People are starting to expect this kind of stuff," he says. "Even 18 months ago, it was a 'wow' factor, but there's not nearly as much reaction like "I've never seen anything like that in my life." There are cool things everywhere, but this isn't just a bell or whistle that’ll be stale soon. It’ll always be helpful to people.”
Why You Should Visit These Historic Cemeteries
Vincent and Robert Gardino have always been history buffs. Brothers and native New Yorkers, the two love reading about past events and following current events with an eye toward the historical perspective, and they’re both avid autograph collectors. But it wasn’t until a trip to Arlington National Cemetery that they discovered what may very well be their true calling: a form of tourism they like to call grave-tripping. Equal parts scavenger hunt and history lesson, the Gardinos’ cemetery visits are a regular part of their travel itinerary. “We look for the interesting stories, the ones that have a little bit of something unknown,” says Vincent. “We also try to make it fun.” To unearth those undiscovered gems, they’ve picked up a few tricks and tips along the way. “Whenever we go to a major city, we go to findagrave.com and see what cemeteries are there and who's buried there,” he says. “It’s the best way to navigate. The site shows you a picture of the crypt as well as its location, and the photo is helpful when you’re looking for people. If you have an idea of what the crypt or tombstone looks like, you find it a little quicker.” That was a lesson he learned the hard way during a trip to Paris, when he and his late wife spent 45 minutes wandering Père Lachaise cemetery in search of actress Sarah Bernhardt’s grave to no avail, and he’s still kicking himself for it. “Jim Morrison’s grave is easy to find—you just follow the people,” Vincent laughs. “But even with a map, I still couldn’t find Sarah Bernhardt.” Now, the Gardinos are aiming to bring their passion for history and storytelling to the masses: They’re currently writing a Grave Trippers book for Temple University Press for publication next year and looking to create a Grave Trippers show for public television, searching for sponsors to cover the million-dollar cost of the first 13 episodes. The book release and the premiere might both be a ways off, but while we wait, they’ve offered to share five of their favorite burial grounds with Budget Travel, plus three they’re eager to visit. After all, Vincent says, “there's always an adventure.” REMEMBERING THE FALLEN AT ARLINGTON Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia Robert: My favorite is Arlington. Back in the mid ‘90s, we made our first trip to Washington, D.C., together, and part of our planned itinerary was to visit Arlington National Cemetery and see President John F. Kennedy’s grave. We had distinct memories of watching the funeral on television when we were very very young. Arlington as a cemetery is such a spectacle. It's a somber place, but it's beautifully maintained, and it reflects the devotion of a country to its fallen service men and women, and we were very much impressed by that. There are so many other notables in Arlington: Another president, William Howard Taft, the boxing champion Joe Louis, the Academy Award-winning actor Lee Marvin, Audie Murphy, who became an actor but is the most decorated veteran of World War II. Vincent: Louis and Marvin, they're buried side by side. Louis has this elaborate tombstone, and then Marvin has the regular G.I. Joe one, the small one that you'd expect to see. There are over 300 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in Arlington, and when you're a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, your headstone has gold leaf. Audie Murphy does not have any gold leaf. None. And he was probably the most decorated soldier in history of the Army—this guy won like every award known to the Army—but the family requested that there was no gold leaf, that he just wanted it to be a regular stone. Here's another one for you. Admiral Peary is generally credited with discovering the North Pole. Well, his right-hand man was Matthew Henson, who was African American. He went with Admiral Peary on all of his expeditions—they were a team for 25 years, and when they discovered the North Pole, Admiral Peary gave Matthew Henson joint credit. So fast-forward a little bit: Peary dies in 1920 and has a very impressive monument [in Arlington], and Henson lives until 1955 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. And then by executive order of President Ronald Reagan in 1988, he was exhumed, along with his wife, and buried right in front of Admiral Peary in Arlington. And now he’s got a very, very impressive monument too. Robert: We were so impressed with Arlington and visiting the graves of those famous people that that's what got us hooked on visiting other cemeteries, and this is how we became what we call Grave Trippers. STARS AT YOUR FEET IN LOS ANGELES Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles Vincent: Westwood Memorial Park is a very small cemetery, believe it or not, in the middle of L.A., right off of Wilshire Boulevard in between—are you ready for this?—skyscrapers. It’s teeny-weeny, but per foot, there are more celebrities buried there: The most famous resident, obviously is Marilyn Monroe, and she just got a neighbor, Hugh Hefner, who bought the crypt right next to her. But there’s tons of people there: George C. Scott, Natalie Wood, Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, Farrah Fawcett, Merv Griffin, Walter Matthau, Donna Reed...it goes on and on and on. You could just spend two or three hours and literally run into people buried there because it's so small. It's just a fascinating place, and the fact that it's right between two skyscrapers makes it even more fascinating. A GATHERING OF JAZZ GREATS IN THE BRONX Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York Vincent: We call it our home away from home. Robert: It's a beautiful cemetery, very well maintained. That's where the jazz corner is—where the graves of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Miles Davis are. Vincent: Miles Davis is actually buried above ground—he did not want to go underneath.... They're all buried within feet of each other. It was the first rural cemetery in New York City. In the middle of 19th century, they were actually running out of space in Manhattan, so a group of concerned citizens bought out about 60, 65 acres in the Bronx, and that's how Woodlawn got started. The very first celebrity funeral in New York was Admiral Farragut [Ed. note: of “damn the torpedos” fame]. When he died in 1870, they got him in there, and his funeral cortege was like two miles long. It was headed by then-president Ulysses S. Grant, so they got their money's worth. Other people there are Bat Masterson, the master builder—though some people will debate that—Robert Moses, and Fiorella La Guardia, probably our favorite mayor. PRIME REAL ESTATE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA Forest Lawn - Glendale, Glendale, California Vincent: Forest Lawn – Glendale is massive. That's the only way to describe it. The difference with Forest Lawn is that they don’t give you directions to graves. Normally when you go to a cemetery, you go to the office and they have maps that'll show you where all the famous people are buried and directions to the sites—and that's also where the fun comes in, ‘cause you always get lost trying to find these people. But Forest Lawn will not tell you where anyone is, and there are a lot of sections that are private and only available by key, so it's an interesting place to navigate. I've been there three times searching for Lon Chaney's crypt, which I can never find, but Elizabeth Taylor is there, Clark Gable, W.C. Fields, Jean Harlow, Jimmy Stewart, L. Frank Baum, to name a few. AN UNDYING BASEBALL RIVALRY IN SUBURBAN NEW YORK Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York Vincent: I think Kensico is probably my favorite because it's incredibly well manicured—just immaculate grounds.... About five or six years ago, I was there with Robert, our close friends, and my late wife, and we go up this hill and I see this impressive above-ground sarcophagus that says Harry Frazee. I’m going, “Oh my god, Harry Frazee!” and everyone's looking at me like I've got five heads on my shoulders. Well, Harry Frazee was the owner of the Boston Red Sox who sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and the guy he sold him to, Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the Yankees, was down the hill from him! So they were united. Harry Frazee is not on Kensico’s map of famous folks, but he was an interesting character. Not only did he own the Boston Red Sox, but his primary claim to fame was as a Broadway impresario. His most famous play was No, No Nanette, and he actually built the Cort Theatre on 48th Street in Manhattan. [If you’re curious where Babe Ruth himself is buried, he’s actually just up the road, at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, in Mt. Pleasant, New York.] The other people at Kensico Cemetery are Anne Bancroft, Tommy Dorsey, Billie Burke [Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz], Danny Kaye, and David Sarnoff, who, as the head of NBC, really put radio on the map when he went out and got Arturo Toscanini to conduct New York Philharmonic concerts on the air for NBC. WHERE WILL THE GRAVE TRIPPERS GO NEXT? Even the Grave Trippers haven’t seen it all. Here’s what’s on their cemetery hit-list: Mt. Carmel Catholic Cemetery Where: ChicagoWho’s buried there: Al Capone Sparkman/Hillcrest Cemetery Where: DallasWho’s buried there: Mickey Mantle Holy Cross Colma Where: Colma, California, the “City of Souls”Who’s buried there: Levi Strauss, William Randolph Hearst, Joe DiMaggio UNUSUAL RESTING PLACES Not all historical figures are laid to rest in cemeteries, and some of the most noteworthy graves are in unusual places. “Woodrow Wilson is actually buried in the nave of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC,” Vincent says. “General Worth, the person Fort Worth, Texas, is named for, happens to be buried in the middle of the street in Manhattan, on 21st Street and Broadway. He's right at that intersection with a 51-foot-high monument. You can't miss it. In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin's grave is right on the street—you don't even have to go in the churchyard. Also in Philadelphia, John Pemberton, a famous Confederate general, is in an obscure part of Laurel Hill cemetery—like, when they put him in, they didn't want people to know they had a guy like him in there. Andrew Carnegie, probably the Bill Gates of his age, has a very simple grave in Sleepy Hollow, New York, and buried around him are his servants, butlers, and maids.”
Hotel We Love: Front Street Inn, Wilmington, NC
A family-friendly coastal community that's home to both a healthy university crowd and a thriving population of retirees, Wilmington, North Carolina, is a year-round destination, thanks to its temperate climate, proximity to the beach, and wide array of food, drink, and artsy activities on offer. In the heart of downtown, Front Street Inn is a quirky independent property with individually themed rooms, reasonable rates, friendly staff, and a decidedly welcoming approach. THE STORY Originally built as a Salvation Army headquarters in 1924, the red-brick building was home to an orphanage, office space, and apartments before it was gutted and converted to an inn in the early ‘90s. The current owners—a couple, married for nearly six decades—felt restless in retirement, first opening a restaurant in Lilliington, a few miles inland, before relocating to the coast and purchasing this property in 2005; their son, a former schoolteacher, manages the day-to-day operations. THE QUARTERS The Inn has two floors, and it retains the feel of a bed and breakfast, with first-floor rooms mainly accessed through the Inn itself and rooms on the second accessed via a balcony. (The Taverna suite on the first floor has a private entrance.) Each of its 12 rooms and suites has a different theme, from the nautical touches of the Jacques Cousteau suite to the southwestern-accented Georgia O’Keeffe; amenities vary by room size and location, but all accommodations have free WiFi access, and most have mini-fridges. I stayed in the first-floor Pearl Buck, a sunny, quiet, queen room with 14-foot-high ceilings, tall arched windows, maple flooring, and a selection of the famed writer’s books on the built-in shelf by the headboard, conveniently situated for bedtime reading. THE NEIGHBORHOOD Located smack-dab in the middle of downtown Wilmington, just a 20-minute drive to Wrightsville Beach, Front Street Inn is spitting distance from the area’s restaurants, bars, breweries, galleries, and museums, close to draws like the Riverwalk, a collection of shops and restaurants set on nearly two miles of boardwalk overlooking the Cape Fear River, and historic homes like the Bellamy Mansion (bellamymansion.org), the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens (bwhg.memberclicks.net), and the Latimer House (latimerhouse.org), which are open for tours and offer an idea of what life was like for rich folks in the days before modern conveniences. (Set on the site of the former city jail, the Burgwin-Wright also incorporates an overview of how things were for the less fortunate, in the days before habeas corpus—i.e., not great.) It’s around the corner from the Children’s Museum (playwilmington.org) and a quick drive from the USS North Carolina (battleshipnc.com), a World War II battleship that saw action in the Pacific and now welcomes visitors for self-guided tours. If you’re looking for a peek at the local arts scene, Wilmington’s Arts Council (artscouncilofwilmington.org) hosts a monthly gallery walk; pop into one of the 20 or so participating venues for wine, snacks, live music, and small talk with the artists themselves. Art is subjective, obviously, but I loved the black-and-white photography, cool collages, and amazing blown glass at Art in Bloom (aibgallery.com). THE FOOD Front Street has a beautiful kitchen, with a thick-wood-beamed ceiling, blue-and-white tiles, and a vintage, workhorse oven that turns out a daily complimentary breakfast (during my stay, ham-and-cheese quiche, blueberry muffins, and two kinds of pound cake, plus fresh fruit, boiled eggs, and cold cereal) for the inn’s guests. For the rest of your meals, nearby dining options are bountiful and varied, with joints serving everything from sushi to Southern in divey digs and highbrow environs alike. We splurged on dinner at PinPoint (pinpointrestaurant.com), named to Southern Living’s list of best new restaurants in 2016 and serving coastal cuisine that’s been living up to the billing ever since, with a menu starring meat, produce, and seafood sourced from local farmers and fishermen. For a light lunch or a more substantial meal, Savorez (savorez.com) is a small, colorful corner room with reasonably priced Latin American fare. Snack-wise, Front Street Brewery (frontstreetbrewery.com), offers half-priced appetizers from 4-6pm daily; pair a pile of light, crispy onion rings with a five-beer tasting, and you'll be more than sated. ALL THE REST There’s a small lot adjacent to the inn, and parking is free for one car per room. One room can accommodate a dog, but just one dog at a time, and it must weigh less than 40 pounds. Rates include breakfast and WiFi access. RATES & DEETS Starting at $129 per night. Front Street Inn215 South Front StreetWilmington, NC800.336.8184frontstreetinn.com
Confessions of a Singing Tour Guide
Jan Tervoort, known as “Amster Jan,” will lead you on a walking tour of Amsterdam and serenade you with traditional Dutch folk songs along the way. Here, his insider hints for visiting the uniquely gorgeous city. (Hpbfotos/Dreamstime)Q: What inspired you to become a singing tour guide? A: I fell in love with Amsterdam when I moved here 12 years ago and started giving tours to friends who were visiting, then decided to go professional. The city’s tourist industry is very competitive, so I needed something to stand out. I brought along my guitar and sang old folk songs. I’m still the only singing tour guide in the city. Q: What’s your best money-saving tip for the first-time visitor to Amsterdam? A: Contact me at Amsterjan.nl. Start with a general tour of the city. A two-hour tour costs 100 euros, but the tips and advice you will get in the two hours will help you save time and money the rest of the trip. Q: I’ll bet you get asked a lot of interesting questions on tours. A: One family brought their 89-year-old grandma in a wheelchair to the old Amsterdam neighborhood where she was born. They brought along a very old picture of the house where she was born, and for some reason she didn’t know the address. From clues in the picture, we went for a search through the neighborhood and found the place. It was very interesting and emotional. Q: What’s your number-one Amsterdam secret that you’re willing to share? (Frank Cornelissen/Dreamstime)A: Visit the Western Islands, created in the 17th century for the shipping industry. Tourists haven’t discovered them yet. They’re in the center of Amsterdam close to central station, the busiest part of the city, but on the islands it is totally quiet. There is almost no traffic, beautiful old storehouses, little old wooden walking bridges, a little children’s farm, nice canals, a local bar, and no shops. You’d actually feel as if you’re going back in time if it weren’t for the big yellow submarine that rests in the central canal. Q: What’s the weirdest encounter you’ve had on a tour? (Hpbfotos/Dreamstime)A: In the posh neighborhood of Jordaan, I was telling a tour group about one of Holland’s most famous gangsters, and the gangster in question actually pulled up on a scooter to say hi. Everyone went silent, then began to laugh. The man is currently in jail, charged with several murders.