The Smurf tour of Europe
The little blue cartoon characters from Belgium that befuddled adults and charmed children the world over are celebrating their 50th anniversary—sorry, Smurfday—this year. To mark the occasion, the Smurfs are touring European cities in anticipation of their grand Smurfday festivities on October 23. The schedule of upcoming cities on the Smurfs' Euro Tour is a secret, but you can track where the Smurfs currently are and where they've been on the Smurfsite.
For each city visited, there's an online video documenting locals' reaction to the Smurfs' arrival. I personally can't tear myself away from this site, so let me be the one to tell you what it means to "Smurf" a city: In the middle of the night, the organizers drop off thousands of white vinyl Smurf figurines around city landmarks, say, subway escalators or a prominent fountain. The object is to decorate one of these Smurfs, take a picture of it, and upload it onto the site where others will vote on their favorite.
At the same time, the organizers set up a temporary Birthday Expo in the city and fill it with Smurf paraphernalia and a celebrity-designed Smurf that'll later be auctioned off for charity. The website also promises tantalizingly vague things like "50 Smurf games" that can be played while the Smurfs are in town.
Currently the Smurfs are in Warsaw and Budapest. If you’re roaming around Europe this summer, it's worth keeping your eyes open for white vinyl Smurf figurines—who knows where they'll pop up next? It's good (albeit baffling) cheap fun! And even if you aren't straying from your desk for the next little while, the Smurfsite, er, website is a trip in itself.
Gear: For summer, a new family-friendly backpack
On a recent visit to the Briggs & Riley Travelware showroom, the Family Backpack caught my eye. The backpack, which hits stores this week, is tailored to parents on the go. It has a front compartment for a portable DVD player, a separate organizer for a cell phone or iPod, an outer side strap for a sippy cup or water bottle, and a side pocket with waterproof lining. A band in the back allows you to slip the entire bag over the handle of any carry-on rolling suitcase. The main compartment features a sleek insulated lunch bag that rests on a collapsible shelf and is held in place by Velcro. The shelf makes it easy to stuff diapers, books, and other items around the lunch bag, but you can also fold it up when you want to maximize the backpack’s interior. At $199, the Family Backpack isn’t cheap, but it is cheaper—and can get more day-to-day use—than the company’s current bestseller, the 22-inch Baseline rolling carry-on. Last year, I visited Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory in Petaluma, Calif., with my then 5-year-old niece. I remember trying to hold my niece’s hand while juggling our picnic lunch and her sweatshirt. A backpack like this would’ve helped to streamline the chaos. If you have any gear recommendations, share them by posting a comment below.
This Weekend: Montreal Jazz Festival kicks off
It wouldn't be summer without jazz festivals, and Montreal’s is one of the best and biggest. More than 3,000 musicians—among them, Ravi Coltrane, Leonard Cohen, and Steely Dan—will perform at the 29th annual festival, from June 26 to July 6. There are hundreds of free outdoor shows on 10 stages, and more than 150 shows lined up for the indoor concert series (tickets range from $12 to $140). The festival, held in downtown Montreal, is dedicated this year to the late Oscar Peterson, a jazz piano legend. There are two debuts of note: Woody Allen, with his New Orleans Jazz Band, and Aretha Franklin, whose shows are sold out. Interested in going? There are still hotel packages available. PREVIOUSLY: Montreal Locals Share Travel Tips My Montreal is Better Than Yours
Dubai: What a desert safari is like
When I made plans to visit my parents in the Middle East, I picked up a February 2007 issue of Budget Travel to read its feature on Dubai ("Just Add Money"). The writer claimed that the country’s popular desert safaris were…well…lame. But I wanted to do one anyway. Aside from lizards and camels, you won’t see many animals. In essence, a desert safari involves a jeep drive through enormous mounds of sand (called "dune-bashing"), and a stop at a campsite where you’ll have the opportunity to ride camels, get henna tattoos and be entertained by a belly dancer during dinner. The real draws are the ride and subsequent view. When we got in the car, our driver and guide from Desert Link (011-971/4-283-0504, desertlinkdubai.com) advised us to fasten our seatbelts. As we started barreling through the dunes, at points on the brink of teetering over, Jasim sat sans seatbelt, fiddling with the radio. A guy in our jeep dubbed him "the Master" as he fearlessly drove us through peaks and valleys. Around us, there were miles of sleek fiery orange hills, only crumpled by the tracks of our predecessors. It was thrilling, albeit slightly dangerous. After about 20 minutes, our pack of eight jeeps stopped to watch the sunset. A group of American college kids had brought snowboards and immediately started jetting down the dunes. I knew the $60 was worth it. Desert Link runs half-day and overnight safaris, but the half-day is more than enough time; you’ll even get to stargaze after dinner. Other operators include Net Tours (011-971/4-266-8661, nettoursdubai.com) and Orient Tours (011-971/4-282-8238, orienttours.co.ae). HAVE A COOL TRIP JOURNAL STORY OF YOUR OWN? Share your story and photos or video by creating a MyBudgetTravel account.
This Weekend: A new park in Washington State
Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island, about a 90-minute drive from Seattle, will open this Saturday. The 433-acre area is the first state park in Washington in more than a decade. The entire project took 18 years and $35 million; the land was once used for logging and was a fishing resort for about 50 years. In addition to typical activities—picnicking, hiking, and fishing— the newest attraction the park is offering is overnight accommodations in 31 restored cabins along the waterfront. The experience is straight out of 1930s, at the height of the resort's popularity. Think small, quaint porches, rocking chairs, and handmade quilts. The park opening has caused such a stir that the cabins are booked through October. The opening will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 21, and is free to the public. The park is located at 1880 S. West Camano Drive, Camano Island. For information or reservations, call 360/387-1550.