Orlando: Beyond the theme parks
There's more to Orlando than jolly theme songs and hour-long lines at theme parks. Check out some of the notable things worth seeing in the city itself.
Get your coffee on at Natura Café in the morning or come back in the evening for jazz, acoustic open mic nights, and a concert series. Stardust Video and Coffee also serves up a mighty cup with free WiFi, video rentals, and poetry readings.
A day at the 57-acre Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp may be an interesting exit from touristy Orlando. Learn about séances and the Cassadaga psychics on a walking tour for $15 a person. Or take the family out to the Li'l 500 go-kart racing track. Tickets are about $4.
For the theater buffs, head down to the Enzian Theater for contemporary and classic movies. (It has six film festivals yearly.) Or go to the downtown Winter Park shopping district for Central Park Popcorn Flicks, free movie nights for all ages on the second Thursday of each month. Shady Park Popcorn Flicks is also free and held four times a year. The Mad Cow Theatre is also downtown and features plays or musicals, and all seats are $15 on Mondays.
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Worth reading: Darn good free museums in Amsterdam
A few of our favorite links from around the 'net right now. Dam good: five free museums in Amsterdam. [EuroCheapo] The top airline meals in the sky—because yes, some airlines still offer real food. [Jaunted] Need plans for fidgety kids? Here are five great interactive museums to visit this summer. [Wired] Milwaukee's airport shuts down briefly due to stench from a common household cleaner. [Gadling] "Free" hotel stays in return for community service? Better read the fine print. [Upgrade: Travel Better] Flight attendant's union squabbles over the sizes of Delta's Richard Tyler-designed uniforms. [USA Today] "Staycation." The word that won't die. [World Hum] For more travel blogs, go to Alltop.
Paris: 10 top free events in July and August
The only thing better than visiting Paris is being able to enjoy free events in Paris. Here's a round-up of activities for the hot summer months of July and August. Sous La Plage Festival (July 12–13) Electro-loving locals who are "making the bridge" (not working the Monday between the weekend and Bastille Day) will be heading to the Parc André Citroën. The annual Sous La Plage festival features workshops, DJs, performances, and plenty of dancing—plus some great activities for kids. Details here. Parc André Citroën, 15th arrondissement. Firemen's Balls (July 13 & 14) As I wrote about here Parisians like to celebrate their fraternité by dancing with sexy firemen. Who can blame them? Check here for a good list of (mostly) free Firemen's Balls on and before Bastille Day. Festival Quartier d'été (July 15–August 9) This annual festival brings high culture down to street level, sponsoring hundreds of dance, theater, and music performances in neighborhoods across the city. You'll find everything from circus and classical music to Cuban hip hop. Consult the full program here. Paris Plages (July 20–August 20) The original urban beach is back for an eighth edition, with sites along the Seine and the Bassin de la Villette. You'll find palm trees, sand, lounge chairs, activities for kids, and plenty to eat and drink. voie George Pompidou in the 4th arrondissement and the Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement. Festival Fnac Indétendances (July 25–August 15) In association with Paris Plages, the music megastore Fnac will be putting on free concerts during the first three weekends of August. Outdoor shows Friday-Sunday, with highlights including Peter von Poehl and Naïve New Beaters on August 15. Full program here. Hôtel de Ville, 4th arrondissement. Paris Jazz Festival (through July 26) This annual Jazz Festival provides a great excuse to laze about in the Parc Floral, part of the sprawling Bois de Vincennes. Free concerts are held on the grand scène (big stage) every Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 and 4:30 p.m. Consult the online program here. Food and drinks are on sale inside the park, but most people bring their own stock of nibbles and wine. Entry to the Parc Floral is €2.50, but the concerts are all free. Parc Floral, Esplanade de Chateau de Vincennes, 12th arrondissement. Classique au Vert (August 1–September 20) At the end of July, the sound of jazz in the Parc Floral will give way to the music of Ravel, Dubussy and Mahler. As with its summer predecessor, the classical music festival is an occasion for leisurely picnics before and during the concerts at 4:00 p.m. Parc Floral, Esplanade de Chateau de Vincennes, 12th arrondissement. Festival Cinéma en Plein Air (July 15–August 16) My personal fave of all the summer festivals, this outdoor film series is once again free in 2009. Screenings begin at nightfall (usually between 9:30–10:00 p.m.) and picnics are encouraged. Chairs and blankets can be rented for a small fee. The lineup includes plenty of English language titles like Brokeback Mountain and Little Miss Sunshine. Consult the full program here. Clair de Lune Festival (August 5–23) If you can understand a little French, you'll love this quirky festival, which projects classic films like Godard's Pierrot le Fou in offbeat locations every Thursday–Sunday in mid-August. Locations vary, consult the online program here. Festival Silhouette (August 29–September 6) Short film are the focus of this festival in the beautiful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Screenings take place every night at dark on the lawn in front of the lake. Consult the online program here. 1 place Armand Carrel, 19th arrondissement. BONUS ITEM! Magicien de Fer (through August 31). Give your wallet a rest and check out the free and fascinating exhibit about the career and personal life of Gustave Eiffel. As I wrote about here, this show is helping to celebrate the Eiffel Tower's 120th birthday. Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, 4th arrondissement. MORE AFFORDABLE PARIS Practical Paris: What's closed on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays? Sunday in Paris: Where do I eat? Paris attractions: New sky-high dining
Talking about "An Irreverent Curiosity"
Hitting bookstores today is a travel book with an unusual story: An Irreverent Curiosity. Writer David Farley attempts to explain the mysterious disappearance of the foreskin of Jesus from the Italian hill town of Calcata. The plot of this nonfiction tale is reminiscent of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt's international bestseller about some peculiar goings-on in Savannah, Ga. I recently spoke with Farley about the book: Your story focuses on the Italian village of Calcata, which is about 30 miles north of Rome and has an unusual cast of characters. What's the CliffsNotes version? In 1900 Pope Leo XIII made a decree forbidding (under the threat of excommunication) the speaking of or writing about a strange holy relic that had once been a papal-approved relic and was huge draw in the Middle Ages: the Holy Foreskin, which had resided since the sixteenth century in a medieval hill town near Rome called Calcata. Thirty-five years later, Calcata met the same fate of sorts, as it was condemned by the government (for fear its 450-foot cliffs were crumbling). But the village residents didn't start to abandon the town until the 1960s. As soon as they did, hippies and artists discovered it. They made it their own and even had Calcata removed from "death row." Meanwhile, in 1983, that forbidden relic, the foreskin of Jesus, mysteriously disappeared. So, three years ago, I moved to Calcata to live among these aging hippies and artists to try to find out who stole this once-rapturous remnant. That sounds like you're making fun of Catholicism. Are you? I suppose some people could—and will—see it that way. But I bet most readers won't. I put the relic into a historical context within the history of Christianity and relic veneration, so that the reader will understand how such a curio even existed and why people of past centuries viewed the relic with reverence. Through the same process of historical context, the reader will also see how the relic fell out of favor with the Church in the nineteenth century. I have to say, it was nice to be able to (finally) use that master's degree in history for something other than being good at trivia games. Americans get so little vacation time, and when they visit Italy, they want to visit the famous spots first, such as Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Naples, the Almafi Coast, Bellagio, and Milan. Could you give a few good reasons why Americans ought to consider visiting Calcata, like you recently recommended in a New York Times travel story on Calcata? Besides being one of the best preserved medieval hill town in Italy, it's one of the weirdest (as I mentioned above). It makes for a great day (or weekend) trip from Rome because, as of now, most of the visitors are Romans who just come up for the afternoon. Spend a Saturday night in Calcata and you'll get a great sense of Italy's "counter culture" scene in just one village. It occurs to me that if your book becomes an enormous hit, the locals will start running tours of Calcata and visitors from around the U.S. will descend on the town. What might such a tour cover? Besides the locals themselves, Calcata offers a lot of intrigue for such a small place. The village sits like a cupcake atop 450-foot cliffs and is surrounded by a gorgeous valley. The base of the cliffs is punctured with millennia-old tombs carved out by the Faliscans, a pre-Christian tribe of people related to the Etruscans who were wiped out by the Romans in the third century, B.C. There are also some great artists living there today (some of whom are quite successful) who don't seem to mind showing off their work: Sculptor Costantino Morosin, painters Giancarlo Croce and Romano Vitali, and mosaic artist Pancho Garrison (who also runs a great restaurant called La Grotta dei Germogli) are a few that come to mind. Finally, there's the church—and the niche above the alter—where the Holy Foreskin had been kept. An excerpt from chapter 7 of your book was included in this year's anthology of The Best Travel Writing, as compiled by the folks at Travelers' Tales. It's one of my favorite non-fiction set pieces of all time. The subject is about the troubles a visitor to Italy can land themselves in if they don't use the right Italian phrase. Rather than spoil the fun for readers by mentioning specifically the phrase here, I'll ask a more general question about getting "lost in translation" instead: What's an example of an Italian word or phrase that English-speaking visitors commonly misuse or mispronounce, and what's the correct word or phrase? I've always thought grazie, the word for "thank you," indicates how well (or poorly) a non-Italian spoke the language. Most tourists just let the word dribble from their mouths—saying gra-tzee—probably mimicking what we've heard on TV commercials for frozen pizza. But the proper pronunciation takes a lot more effort and tongue twisting that can only be mastered with serious practice. Also, Americans constantly mispronounce bruschetta. I once ordered some bruschetta at an Italian restaurant in New York—pronouncing it correctly, as "broo-sket-ta"—and the waitress actually corrected me, saying "you mean broo-sheta, right?" At one point in the book, you talk about Halloween and how the holiday is increasingly celebrated in Italy. I was surprised by that. Could you describe for your readers what it's like to witness this classic U.S. holiday "in translation"? Because Halloween doesn't have the long historical legacy in Italy as it does in the United States, it was introduced to the country under different circumstances. It's more of an adult holiday in Italy that, I suspect, alcohol companies are as much responsible for its promotion than anyone. Starting in mid October, every second commercial on Italian TV is a Halloween-themed ad for booze. Thanks to Calcata's bewitching looks and perhaps its reputation as a center of counterculture, it's an almost natural place for people in the area (including Rome) to gravitate to on October 31. As a result, the village turns into one massive party on Halloween and the locals really deck the place out. It must be a dream gig to live in Italy for a year writing a book. What was a happy side benefit of being able to do that? Being accepted by the locals creates an endless amount of experiences that people with the travel bug—people like me who almost fetishize "real" interactions with locals—can only dream of. In the summer, for example, there were nightly dinner parties on the square: everyone would show up with a bowl of something they'd thrown together and a bottle of wine and we'd sit around for hours talking and laughing. Likewise, you end up in situations—like driving around in cars with people—that turns into situations a tourist never would experience. I was privy to seeing cars break down, meetings in the mayor's office, and even the inner circle of geriatric men at the coffee bar. Also, if you show your face at the same restaurants enough, you start to get the regular's discount, which is always nice. When they hopefully make your book into a movie, which actor would you like to play the character of you? The only actors people have said I resemble are self-esteeming crushing in their physical appearances so no one who looks like me would play me in the movie version. But that doesn't quite matter anyway, because by the time the script would go through the major studio machine, my character would probably end up being played by someone like Zac Efron who goes to Calcata in search of a weird relic, but ends up in a romantic tryst with the young village beauty and whose main goal becomes to gain the approval of her incredulous father until he saves the family business with grand heroics. In the end, the couple live happily ever after restoring a villa just outside of Calcata and, as it would be shown in the last scene, he begins typing out on an old typewriter a book about the whole experience. MORE An Irreverent Curiosity for sale at Amazon.
Bastille Day in Paris: Have a ball
On July 14, 1789, a French mob overtook the Bastille, then a state prison that held political prisoners. The day has since become a symbol of the ideology of the French Revolution that followed. Below you'll find how to celebrate in Paris this weekend. [But don't worry if you can't make it. We found the top 10 free events that are happening in Paris throughout July and August. We dish up the best offerings, such as hanging out on an artificial beach along the Seine and enjoying free outdoor jazz concerts. Click here to find 10 top free events in July and August.] The Parade The annual Bastille Day défilé will kick off early at 9:00 a.m. with a parade of tanks and soldiers down the Champs-Elysées. The air above will be filled with jets—the impressive l'armée de l'Air—plus helicopters and parachutists. As this year's guest of honor is India, the parade will also include Indian military and musicians. A strange combination, indeed! Avenue de Champs-Elysées, 8th arrondissement. The Fireworks The Eiffel Tower's 120th birthday is the occasion for a bigger-than-usual Bastille Day fireworks show. The same pyrotechnic posse that managed the Millennium explosions will be putting on this year's show with 30 video projectors, 120 flame throwers, and more than three tons of explosives. The fireworks are scheduled to begin at 10:45 p.m. Before the show, Johnny Hallyday (France's beloved aging rocker) will perform a free concert on the lawn. Massive crowds are expected. Champs de Mars, 7th arrondissement. The Firemen Elsewhere, thousands will be celebrating their fraternité at the annual firemen's balls. I'm not sure about the origin of this tradition, but Bastille Day is, for many Parisians, the occasion to dance with sexy firemen. These parties are usually free (you'll be asked for a donation) and have DJs or live bands to provide a backdrop for the dancing. Some firehouses boast gymnastics shows, strip teases, and other amusements. By my count, there are more than 60 balls taking place in Paris and the near suburbs. Check here, for a full list in French, and here, for a short and lively list in English. EARLIER This weekend: Storm the Bastille… in Philly?! MORE AFFORDABLE PARIS Read the Series