#BTReads: Rick Steves’s ‘Travel as a Political Act’
When was the last time you read a travel book from cover to cover?
Those of us who are guidebook fans tend to skip from chapter to chapter, site to site, neighborhood to neighborhood, comparing prices, menus, and hotel decor, in search of the ideal itinerary. But Rick Steves’s Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind (Avalon Travel, February 2018) is not a typical travel book. You may find yourself devouring every word on every page, emerging with something much more valuable than a go-here-then-here-then-here itinerary: A transformed view of what it means to be a citizen of this world, and some common-sense tips for navigating that world.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
“My goal is to inspire Americans to go beyond Orlando,” Steves told me in a phone interview last week. The PBS TV host, bestselling guidebook author, and esteemed European tour guide (he brought 20,000 travelers to Europe in 2017) has set his sights high, distilling a lifetime of world travel into a pretty basic concept: “I love the idea of travel as a way of getting out of our comfort zone.” That that philosophy remains surprising, even shocking, to some travelers, simply underscores the need for this new, fully revised third edition of Steves’s award-winning book at this moment in American history.
GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS
That said, however, Travel as a Political Act is an especially inviting, non-confrontational celebration of the ways in which “transformative travel” can enrich any trip for any traveler (even those who cherish their comfort zones). At the heart of Steves’s message is the notion of embracing local culture wherever you go: Connect with people, take history seriously, and overcome fear. He devotes chapters to such disparate destinations as El Salvador (where Americans can see firsthand the impact of globalization on a small, relatively poor country), Turkey and Morocco (Islamic nations that do not fit the common media narrative of religious extremism and terrorism), Israel and Palestine (where he simply urges visitors to talk to both sides), and a variety of European nations that challenge Americans’ views.
“America is a great and innovative nation. But other nations have some pretty good ideas, too,” says Steves. In Travel as a Political Act, the author consistently invites readers to join him in opening their minds, but, as a truly open-minded writer himself, he avoids condescension and lecturing. “By bringing these ideas home, we can help our society confront its challenges more wisely.”
WHERE WILL RICK STEVES GO NEXT?
Because we ask everyone, "Where will you go next?" I asked Steves where 2018 may take him, and I got possibly my favorite answer I've yet received: "I'm off to Europe to make guidebooks, particularly in Sicily and Scotland, and I'm preparing a TV show about the history of Fascism in Europe and another about cruising in the Mediterranean."
Lonely Planet’s “Best in the U.S. 2018”: From the Redwoods to the Space Coast
Our colleagues at our parent company, Lonely Planet, have unveiled their “Best in the U.S. 2018” and in terms of trip inspiration it’s resonating with us like the classic Woody Guthrie ballad: “From the Redwood forests, to the Gulf Stream waters,” this list covers the U.S.’s most compelling hotspots, culled from Lonely Planet’s community of travel experts, including editors, researchers, and locals. CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME California’s Redwood Coast is the number-one destination for 2018, offering the incredible towering coastal redwoods, one of America’s most beautiful national parks, and endless miles (well, 175) of Pacific coastline just four hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Budget Travelers will find affordable lodging and amazing seafood in Crescent City, CA, just outside Redwoods National Park. IDAHO, TENNESSEE, AND (OF COURSE) FLORIDA Other top-ranking U.S. destinations include Boise, ID, for its great wines, beers, and festivals (it’s also the capital of America’s fastest-growing state), Chattanooga, TN, for its cool train station hotel and dynamic culinary scene, and Florida’s Space Coast, which, in addition to educating families about the history of space travel, offers affordable food and fun in Cocoa Beach. SEE THEM ALL The nice thing about a domestic must-see list is that each destination is actually within reach of the American traveler, a flight or a road trip away. Rounding out Lonely Planet’s 2018 list you’ll find Cincinnati, Midcoast Maine, Richmond, Kentucky Bourbon Country, Minneapolis, and Southeastern Utah.
Miami's 10 Tastiest Secrets
Miami’s reputation for excess is the stuff of hip-hop video fantasy: Parties on yachts with models and oligarch henchmen; bottle service at the latest nightclub next to pro athletes and career scenesters; James Bond-like characters making mojitos at the wet bar in your penthouse suite. In summary: debauched, superficial, and vastly expensive. Or so the stereotype goes. This is the Miami that was concocted to appeal to people’s most aspirational and competitive fantasies--but it’s not how regular visitors or part-time residents try to live. You can actually have the boat life, nightlife, and even the penthouse views in Miami for a much more reasonable cash outlay. And pro tip: Fantastic restaurants and bars abound in the city, and they’re are rarely ostentatious even if they’re expensive, certain parts of mid-beach and Brickell notwithstanding. Planning an escape to Miami? We’ve rounded up 10 local favorites that offer great value and ambience aplenty. 1. THE WYNWOOD YARD There are patches of old Wynwood, a mural-splashed urban warehouse neighborhood, left in Miami’s now ultra-gentrified arts district, and The Wynwood Yard (thewynwoodyard.com), an outdoor community bazaar/food truck park/urban garden is the best of them. The grounds are green and abundant with flowers and food plants; the outdoor bar and food vendors serve drinks and eats that are just as quality as what you'd get in any formal indoor establishment. What's more, local organizations and promoters are always running some kind of cool event. Depending on when you visit, you might wander into a yoga class, a crafts market, an entrepreneur networking event, or a free reggae show. On one night that'll go down in the history books, Shakira showed up and played a free midnight show. It was only two songs, but still. Shakira. 2. COYO TACO Miami does tacos as well as anywhere on the West Coast or Texas, but here, taquerias are not expected to be a humble, hole-in-the-wall experience. Even the cheapest of eats can be served with a little flair. Local favorites, of which Coyo Taco (coyo-taco.com) is right at the top, play to Miami’s fashionable crowds and penchant for day drinking. The Latin Caribbean-influenced menu showcases a fresh approach to fast-casual (the website advertises guacamole “smashed to order”). Toss in ice-cold beer and margaritas and colorful slightly urban décor and it adds up to the perfect dine-in experience at grocery deli prices. 3. PUBBELLY NOODLE BAR There’s something immediately charming about a Miami brand that gives a shout-out to the belly. Not that the trio of male founders of Pubbelly Noodle Bar (pubbellyboys.com/miami/pubbelly) fit the dad-bod physical profile, but they do have a passion for rich food and friendly hospitality. Chef and founding partner Jose Mendin, a native Puerto Rican with classic culinary school training, began his career with the Nobu restaurant group (first in Miami, and then London). He’s equally talented working with pork – the beloved staple protein of Puerto Rico – as devising colorful, delicious Asian dishes. The cozy, constantly packed noodle bar, located next to Pubbelly Sushi in Miami Beach's Sunset Harbour neighborhood, is the best of both worlds on one umami-rich menu. It isn’t quite cheap eats, but a ramen bowl can serve two. 4. MONTY'S ON SOUTH BEACH The marina views of millionaires’ yachts lend Monty's on South Beach (montyssobe.com) a luxe vibe, even though the décor is a step up from picnic tables and there is a family-friendly swimming pool on the main deck. As long as it’s not raining, the large wraparound deck space is normally packed with a happy mix of local professionals, South of Fifth residents, and tourists feeling clever that they found this spot. Stone crab claws—South Florida’s claim to shellfish fame—are a huge draw during Monty’s wildly popular Happy Hour (Monday through Friday from 4PM to 8PM), when they're often only $5 each in season. Happy Hour raw bar specials change, but oysters and jumbo shrimp also make frequent appearances. Well liquor is half off, and beer and wine 30 percent off. 5. LAGNIAPPE In Louisiana and the Cajun parts of Texas, lagniappe is “a little something extra”—a little gift, a gratuitous favor. And while nothing’s gifted at Lagniappe (lagniappehouse.com), a Bohemian-jazzy backyard bar, gourmands will find many little gifts in the refrigerator case by the back bar counter. Specifically, there are dozens of small plastic-wrapped packages of fine cheese and charcuterie, which mostly cost between $4 and $12. Choose whichever ones look good, hand them over the counter, and the staff will turn them into a bespoke charcuterie platter. Other guests forgo the snacks and just buy a couple bottles of wine to accompany the live music, buzzy vibe, and occasional summer downpour. 6. SHUCKERS WATERFRONT GRILL The lively happy hour is just one of the many reasons that Shuckers Waterfront Grill (shuckersbarandgrill.com), a sunny, raucous outdoor bar on Biscayne Bay can't keep count on its regulars. (See also: its epic sunset views, its grilled wings, its boat-up dock that accommodates everything from small yachts to rickety two-man rowboats, the sports on TV.) It's also notorious among locals because not very long ago, the entire main deck collapsed and fell into the bay while approximately 100 people were seated on it. Only after spending an evening at Shuckers can you understand why such an event, while it may have been very shocking and very wet for those who experienced, did absolutely nothing to discourage the standing-room-only crowds who show up every night. 7. DRUNKEN DRAGON With a name like Drunken Dragon (drunkendragon.com) in Miami, there’s no telling what the venue might be. A tattoo parlor with an adjacent liquor store? A geisha drag pop-up? In fact, it’s one of the city’s best Asian fusion restaurants, hidden away behind an anonymous door in a strip mall resembling Ali Baba’s treasure cave decked out in leather club chairs. Sexy-sophisticated décor blends bling (golden strand curtains) with tiki touches with eyebrow-raising art. A limited number of Korean barbecue tables are available, usually after a wait, for those who want to get hands-on with their food. Others order from the small plates, often showing up for the great Happy Hour, which starts at the hour most of the world leaves the office, but Miami-ites leave the beach. 8. TAURUS BEER & WHISK(E)Y HOUSE An icon in one of Miami’s classic non-beach neighborhoods, Taurus Beer & Whisk(e)y House (taurusbeerandwhiskey.com) is known by night for its comedy and trivia nights, plus its encyclopedic selection of 100+ whiskeys. The food is basic burger and bar fare, with nightly specials offering prices from last generation ($2 taco Tuesdays, $5 chili dog Thursdays, 15% industry night discount on Sundays and Mondays). Though historically an evening spot, Taurus’s 2016 foray into daytime dining, specifically weekend brunch, was received with great enthusiasm. This is largely due to the $19 bottomless booze option. A bacon rye old-fashioned and an jalapeno bloody mary are among the all-you-can-drink offerings. 9. VAGABOND KITCHEN Avra Jain, owner/developer of Vagabond Hotel, is the force behind the Upper East Side’s urban revitalization—and definitely one to lead trends, not follow. So it stands to reason that the Vagabond’s retro-sexy-deco-cool restaurant/bar, Vagabond Kitchen (vagabondkitchenandbar.com) is home to all sorts of interesting goings-ons. Whether it’s bottomless Sunday brunch, the launch of a new burlesque cabaret, a DJ on the pool deck late-night, or an impromptu art collaboration with a Miami-based collective, the property regularly partners on creative missions. Its typical vibe is boozy, experimental, and inclusive. Except during normal meal hours, when the staff keeps food as the focus, executing contemporary American fare with TLC. 10. IVAN'S COOKHOUSE Most Caribbean restaurants in Miami strive for the bare-bones ambiance of island shacks, better suited to takeout joints than special occasion dining. There are exceptions, the most interesting of which is Ivan's Cookhouse (ivanscookhouse.com), a stylish restaurant that "Chopped" winner Ivan Dorvil opened in 2016. You can really tell why this chef did so well on the cooking show: he never puts his restaurant on autopilot. He's constantly changing up the menu, creating specials, or hosting live bands. He even decided recently to open for breakfast during the week. His menu is as Asian and European as it is Caribbean, but all the island staples are represented somewhere. Jerk chicken, fresh-caught fish, Haitian-style oxtails, plantains and fritters are among the top items, and his sampler platter is popular with people who want to sample several Caribbean flavors.
Acadia's Dark Sky Festival Is Calling All Photographers and Artists
There are few places in the U.S. that enjoy a truly dark sky at night anymore, and the area in and around Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island on the part of the Maine coast that locals call Down East, is one of them. Each year, the Acadia region celebrates its awe-inspiring starlight nights with its Night Sky Festival. A GROWING ASTRONOMY FESTIVAL The Acadia Night Sky Festival has grown over the past decade from a small local event to one that draws visitors from all over the U.S. and Canada and offers dozens of workshops and esteemed astronomy researchers. Participants can stargaze from the top of Cadillac Mountain, take evening cruises on Frenchman Bay, and sign up for telescope lessons. A COOL CONTEST The 10th annual Acadia Night Sky Festival (acadianightskyfestival.org) will run from September 5 through 9 this year, but there’s an inspiring contest happening right now that might interest the photographers and visual artists in your life: The festival planning committee is soliciting entries for its festival poster now through March 16. “Art submissions should portray the night sky above Acadia and/or Down East Maine,” says Alf Anderson, co-chair of the Acadia Night Sky Festival marketing team. A PRESTIGIOUS PRIZE The winning image will be featured on the festival’s posters, brochures, website, and other marketing platforms, and the winning photographer or visual artist will receive two round-trip tickets from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME (Acadia’s gateway community), courtesy of Cape Air. For contest rules, visit acadianightskyfestival.org.
5 Reasons Why We (Sort of) Love NYC’s Public Transportation
Ah, the MTA. With subway stations that beg to be cleaned and bus and train service that often keeps commuters waiting (and increasingly infuriated, as in 2017's "summer of hell"), New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has, of course, earned its bad reputation with New Yorkers, right? But... From Monday to Friday, more than 8 million of us choose the MTA to commute to our destinations. Perhaps it's the 665 miles of track that allows us to go practically anywhere, or the (relatively) reasonable price of $2.75, but whatever it is, the MTA has remained our number-one travel resource. And while most of us have reason to curse NYC’s public transportation (and if you're reading this while waiting for a delayed train, maybe you're cursing it right now), here are five reasons to appreciate the maligned MTA. 1. NYC HAS 24/7 PUBLIC TRANSIT In cities around the world, the midnight chimes signal the end of train service for the day. For the city that never sleeps, that is just unacceptable. Although the MTA’s service can be sparse after midnight, apps like Transit help commuters track the next bus or train, and I can always count on the MTA to get me home (in just about any kind of weather). So, dare I call the MTA “reliable”? Yes, but before New Yorkers raise their pitchforks at me, it is “reliable” in the sense that you can rely on it to get the baseline job done. 2. THE FARE IS REASONABLE Hear me out on this. NYC taxicabs start at $2.50, with a meter that hikes up unbelievably fast in traffic, and car services like Uber and Lyft are subject to price surges based on demand. The MTA is one of the few sources of transportation that offer unlimited-ride Metrocards, free transfers, and a one-fare subway zone. Cities like Singapore and Hong Kong charge you based on how far you go and transferring from line to line, making the MTA’s $2.75 price a pretty good deal. The MTA also rewards your spending: If you put $5.50 or more on your card, you get a 5 percent bonus, essentially earning free rides over time. 3. THE SYSTEM IS IMPROVING (REALLY!) Those fares go to good use. Free Wi-Fi, countdown clocks, and new and improved trains have made a positive impact on the commuting experience. By adding foldable chairs and removing tail-end seats on some trains, the MTA has made room for additional passengers. In addition, the MTA is considering installing platform doors, which would follow the lead of public transportation in some European and Asian countries, limiting train track litter and delays caused by passengers. The MTA will test this out during the (dreaded) L train shutdown in 2019. 4. THE SUBWAY IS A CITY INSIDE A CITY First, the people. We’ve all witnessed it: The red-carpet-ready riders, the hipsters, the business folks, and the rest of us ol’ regulars all ride together in the same subway car. From the far ends of four of the city’s five boroughs, we join together, at least for a few minutes, to ride the MTA. The result? A mini melting pot that is relatively rare in many cities around the U.S. and the world. 5. THERE’S A LOT OF GOOD THINGS TO SEE If you’re on a train that runs aboveground or on a bus, getting a view of the NYC skyline and iconic landmarks can be a much-needed reminder of why you’re putting up with all the other stuff. And for those of us who take the underground trains, the artwork that adorns some subway stations provides a taste of NYC culture, often carefully curated to suit the neighborhood and institutions served by that station. The classic West 81st station at the American Museum of Natural History welcomes visitors with playful mosaics that include dinosaurs and other fossils, while the new 2nd Avenue subway line's stations offer a series of portraits by Chuck Close to entertain passersby (nycgo.com).