Rain in Spain? We've Got the Forecast
Planning a trip to Istanbul? You'll be happy to know that today's weather there is mostly sunny with a high of about 90 degrees. You can check 3- and 15-day forecasts for major cities around the globe on BudgetTravelOnline.com.
We also have handy resources for currency conversions and international time zones. In London, £1 has risen to the equivalent of US$1.91, and in Hong Kong, it's already 12 hours later than in New York City. Playing around with currencies, weather, and time is not only useful--it can be fascinating, and a fun way to imagine yourself elsewhere.
"After the Storms" Commemorates Katrina
As the hurricane's one-year anniversary looms, a new exhibition of stark photographs depicting the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview opens tomorrow at the Louisiana State Museum. The images were taken by award-winning photojournalist David Burnett, whose nearly 40-year career has taken him to more than 70 countries, and by New Orleans high school students participating in National Geographic's Photo Camp. The 15 students captured their local communities in the storm's wake and took self-portraits. A piano from the home of Fats Domino is also on view; the rock-and-roll icon was missing for days after he fled the rising floodwaters. The show runs Aug. 11-Dec. 31, Tues.-Sun., 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Admission is $6; $5 for seniors, students, and active military; and free for children under 12. 504/568-6968, lsm.crt.state.la.us. Related links: New Orleans Right Now Where to Eat, Stay, and Help in New Orleans Free and Discounted Stays for Volunteers Real Deals: Airfare and four nights from $345
Claire Messud on New York City
"In my new novel, which is set in New York City, two characters embark upon an ill-advised affair after dinner in an unnamed restaurant on Cornelia Street. The place I had in mind is Home, and the scene for romance lies in its tiny back garden. The restaurant's desserts, especially the chocolate pudding, are particularly delicious, and they do a great chicken-and-sausage thing with fabulous onion rings. (I'm an onion ring fan.) Their quirky American food is enough to make anyone fall in love." --Claire Messud Messud's new novel, The Emperor's Children, is in bookstores now. Home: 20 Cornelia St., 212/243-9579, chicken $18, pudding $7.
Traveling to Cuba
Is there any way to travel legally to Cuba? Robert Griffle, Lee's Summit, Mo. On trips to Cuba run by human rights organization Global Exchange, the only people accepted are full-time professionals with jobs that correlate to specific programs offered--nurses at the health-care conference, teachers at the educators' delegation (415/558-9486, globalexchange.org). Eight-day trips cost $2,350 and include lodging and two meals a day; airfare to Cuba, by way of Mexico, is extra and can be arranged through Global Exchange. If you don't qualify, or want to see Cuba on your own, you must apply for a special license through the Treasury Department. The chances of being accepted are slim: You basically have to prove that your visiting Cuba is somehow in the best interests of the U.S. If you go to Cuba without a license, the penalties range from a warning letter to as much as $65,000 in fines and the rare criminal prosecution. For more information, visit treas.gov/ofac.
On Life, Liberty, and the Freedom to Travel
Have you heard about the Cubans staying at the Sheraton Maria Isabel in Mexico City? The U.S. government threatened to fine Starwood, Sheraton's parent company, because, as an American entity doing business with Cubans, Starwood was violating the U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Our Cuba policy has long driven me batty. The embargo is misguided and shortsighted, born of special interests and political kowtowing. Yes, Cuba has an appalling human rights record, but so do other countries (China and Myanmar come to mind)--and we certainly don't forbid travel there. And for those of you about to accuse me of being partisan, please hold your horses. I blame every president--every politician--since John F. Kennedy started the de facto travel ban back in 1963. What galls me isn't the economic sanctions so much as something more selfish. I believe that Americans should have the right to travel wherever we want. Subscribers don't always like it when I write something "political," but if anything, I'm arguing against the institutional politicization of travel. On this count, I'm a libertarian: Every individual must be allowed to make his or her own choices about where to travel. There are countries--and states--that I think twice about visiting because I'm not sure I'd feel welcome there. And perhaps I shouldn't spend my tourism dollars supporting agendas I don't agree with. Then again, I'm hopelessly optimistic that I'll be able to enlighten someone simply by interacting with him. Travelers have long been a potent force of positive change. The thing is, it's my decision. At Budget Travel, we write about all destinations regardless of their policies; we leave it to you to decide if the politics matter. Some people prefer not to think about the issues surrounding a place, and hey, that's their prerogative. Back to the Sheraton situation--undiplomacy at its finest--which soon devolved into farce. Sheraton evicted the Cubans, a move the Mexican government called discriminatory. Local officials ordered the hotel shuttered for code violations, but the hotel still quietly let guests in, and then the city reversed its decision. I wonder if the hotel could've simply not charged the Cubans--what a magnanimous gesture that would have been. It would've been even better if Starwood had refused outright to obey the U.S. policy. But I'm not so optimistic as to hope for civil disobedience from corporate executives. It isn't good for the shareholders.