Time to update your bucket list
Julia Dimon is one-half of the quirky duo hosting the show Word Travels. Over the years, she has circled the world four times and visited more than 80 countries. This summer, she's jetting off to Madrid and Beijing for MSNBC's online travel series Destination Getaway. I recently caught up with Julia in New York, where I asked about her adventures.
Tasted any exotic foods lately?
Well, I recently got to try a local delicacy in the highlands of Ecuador called cuy, which we know of as the guinea pig. It's a delicacy there, and also eaten in Peru and Bolivia, so I was able to go into a traditional indigenous home and see its uses—from food to medicinal purposes, to keeping the house warm by living indoors, and as a sort of status symbol. It tastes like greasy chicken, but it's traumatizing because when you see it from the plate, the cuy is served with its face still on it, it has its fur, and you can see its little claws.
So there's nothing off-limits for you food-wise?
Absolutely not! The grosser the better. When I was in Venezuela trekking through the jungle, I tried a moriche worm. Because it was alive, that brings it to a new level.
OK then, let's talk about some other extremes you've experienced. What about a drink?
There was actually something really fun called the sour-toe cocktail up in the Yukon. That's whisky, and then it actually has a pickled severed human toe in it. Apparently the one in my glass was donated from a lawnmower accident. The deal is, a captain comes out and gives you a big speech with a ceremony, and then you chug this thing back and the toe has to touch your lips. Once you do, you become part of the sour-toe cocktail club. That kind of indicates your bad-ass Yukon status. I'm a card-carrying member.
Absolutely! How about an extreme adventure?
One of the adventures I've done is the Zambezi Gorge Swing in Zambia. It's a lot like bungee jumping where you throw yourself over a large drop, but instead of just dropping down and coming back up, it's like a pendulum swing. You're looking down and it's quite terrifying, but then the setting is beautiful over the gorge and you can see the Zambezi River. It was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes!
What about the complete opposite feeling, where you've been the most at peace?
One of my new favorites is the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The landscape is really unique, and there are parts that feel like you're on the moon. And then there's this moment when the sun's going down and there's the most beautiful sunset—you know that kind of rich desert color, where everything's a warm sun hue? I looked around and thought, you just can't get this complete connectivity with nature anywhere else. And Rishikesh, India, which is like the yoga capital of the world…there's something going on there. That's where The Beatles went to practice. It's pretty much a spiritual hotbed for yoga and ashrams.
Well Julia, for my last question, I have to ask…What is the most extreme mishap you've had happen to you?
Yeah well, I got malaria in East Africa, and that was awful. But truly, out of all the countries I've been to, there have been few mishaps. I really think that's important to share how few problems travelers have, because sometimes you think it's a big bad scary world out there. So I really like to encourage people to travel and experience things in countries that are a bit off the beaten path, and say, "Look, if I can do it, you can do it!"
Julia's happy to answer all of your travel and adventure-related questions on her new website, traveljunkiejulia.com, including tips for choosing the best volunteer vacations, to how to use Twitter to find better travel deals, and how to break into the travel-writing biz.
Paris: Free art galleries worth visiting
In Paris, the visual arts aren't limited to what you'll find hanging on the walls of its famous museums. The city also has a vibrant contemporary art scene—one that's best appreciated by visiting some of its smaller, more intimate galleries. To better understand the Paris protocol for gallery-going, we asked Susie Hollands for some advice. As the founder of Vingt Paris—a comprehensive hub for visual arts information and resources in Paris—Susie knows better than anyone how to help new arrivals navigate the local arts scene. She and arts Vingt's art writer Aran Cravey put their heads together to offer this gallery guidance: How is a gallery visit different than a museum? Susie: Galleries can be a great way to find out about young artists or even more established ones, who have gone unrecognized in the institutions. The smaller space offers a more intimate experience for the viewer, and provides the opportunity to take one's time with the art without distraction, a luxury not always available in Paris' museums. And while one can find a myriad of museums here in Paris that offer the richness of its artistic heritage, the galleries provide a great way to see what artists are creating in France now. Am I allowed to visit if I'm not looking to buy? Susie: Often people feel intimidated by the whole gallery experience and come away feeling snubbed. Most of a gallery's sales don't come from walk-ins, so if the person behind the desk doesn't fall over themselves to help, its only because they expect that most visitors are there purely for the pleasure of viewing. Feel free to browse! Does Paris have a gallery row—an area with a large concentration of galleries? Susie: Unlike New York's Chelsea or London's Mayfair, Paris doesn't have one particular avenue or district. What it does have are lots of little pockets of gallery spaces. Each quartier has its own distinct character, and one will find that the art in that area reflects that style. For example the Saint-Germain des Prés area in the 6th arrondissment is one of the more chic addresses in the city. Likewise, you'll find a tasteful and stylish selection of art galleries here. Streets like the rue de Seine have a long history of being a hangout for artists and dealers with galleries spread out along the narrow streets and the Academy of Beaux-Arts around the corner. The Marais is another great corner in which to get lost. Galleries here tend toward a younger and more contemporary audience, so one is more likely to find an edgier and riskier selection of artists. The closer one strolls towards the Pompidou Center, the more established names one finds. Galerie Daniel Templon is an example of a gallery that has been showing some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world for close to 30 years. Galerie agnès b is a younger gallery, but it shows powerful exhibitions in a generous space. What are vernissages, and what makes these interesting to Paris visitors? Susie: A vernissage is another name for an exhibition opening. They usually take place at night, after working hours, and they give the dealers, clients, artists and friends a chance to look as the new work in a more relaxed environment. Do you need a special invitation for these openings, or are they open to the public? Susie: The big misconception about vernissages or openings is that they are private parties. If people are in the gallery and the door is not locked, then it's probably not a private party. Granted, walking into a room filled with strangers chatting amongst themselves and sipping (free) champagne may feel like crashing the party, but really, you have just has much right to be there as they do! My best advice is don't be shy and step inside—these openings are a great way for visitors to experience a little of the local Paris art scene. Cheers! How can visitors find about these gallery shows and openings? Susie: Finding out about vernissages is not always easy. This is one of the reasons why they can seem so exclusive. There are a few websites that list vernissages in their calendars, but these are mainly in French. However, Vingt is now publishing a weekly calendar of vernissages and other art events happening at night. This calendar is the most inclusive and up to date on the Web. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Paris: Baguette Protocol Check out Budget Travel's Paris City Page Practical Paris: What's closed on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays Affordable Paris: Museums for free
London neighborhood watch: Greenwich
With a new royal status, re-furbished museums, new transport links, and premier concert venues, this southeastern district is going from strength to strength. Greenwich is now much more than merely the longitude-zero prime meridian, which splits the world timewise into East and West. With its Queen's House and Naval College by Christopher Wren (the architect of St Paul's Cathedral), Greenwich has long been a favorite outer-city excursion for visiting Americans. Yet until recently the neighborhood was little more than a place to admire noble architecture. In the past decade, the neighborhood has undergone a mini-renaissance. (In 2012, the Queen will elevate its status to join one of the city's rare Royal Boroughs.) Here's what's worth seeing: World Heritage It all began in 1997 when Greenwich's cluster of famous buildings was nominated as Britain's 17th UNESCO World Heritage Site and was chosen as the spot to build an exhibition space covered by an 1,180-foot dome. The project involved the reclamation of the entire Greenwich Peninsula on previously derelict, polluted land, and the construction of a new subway station. The dome is now a marquee concert arena, easily reached from the city's heart. Concerts In 2007, the dome reopened as the O2, and is now the city's most popular concert arena, hosting acts like Bon Jovi and Madonna. The Black Eyed Peas will play four nights there in May. Museums The last few years have seen a full refurbishment of the London Planetarium, which lies on a hill overlooking the neighborhood, right on the Meridian—making it the official starting point for each new day. The observatory is part of the National Maritime Museum which won the gold award for best museum at the Visit London awards last year. The current show, Secrets of the Sun, has garnered rave reviews in the London press. It continues until May 9. Also worth checking out: The Cutty Sark—once the world's fastest sailing clipper—is due to re-open in late 2010 after a full rebuild. Eating Out & Nightlife It was deadly quiet up until the new millennium, but Greenwich now has a burgeoning number of restaurants and nightlife venues. The Buenos Aires Café serves great South American steaks and is run by an Argentinean ex-paparazzo whose photographs adorn the walls, INC bar has live music most nights while Up the Creek was voted the best comedy club in the U.K. by the Guardian newspaper. Getting to Greenwich Greenwich is easy to reach. The new subway has made the neighborhood reachable in just 20 minutes from Central London, and there are trains and a light railway. But the most enchanting way of getting to the neighborhood is by river boat along the Thames, following the route of the famous James Bond river chase from the film The World is Not Enough. It is even possible to rent a power boat and driver to replicate the feel of the chase.
Readers' most unusual landmark photos
World-famous icons like the Eiffel Tower and Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue pose a true challenge for travelers, who often come home with the same images taken countless times over. But that wasn't the case for myBT member awc007, who shot this spectacular photo of Easter Island from a different perspective—the moai's-eye view. Kudos to all the readers whose fresh takes made it into our slide show; their 19 images will inspire you to rethink classic landmarks and try out new photo techniques. See our slide show. MORE READER SLIDE SHOWS Doorways | Mexico | Reflections NOW IN SEARCH OF... We're now collecting your photos of Spain and your compelling portraits of people around the globe. Upload them through myBudgetTravel, tag them, and check back in the coming weeks for a slide show of the best submissions. PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS How to Take Picture-perfect Photos
Bermuda: My favorite weekend escape from New York
Last month, when my roommate suggested I join him on his work trip to Bermuda, I balked: There's no way, I thought, I can afford a last-minute trip to an island getaway.* Plus, beach vacations generally aren't my bag. If I'm going to splurge on travel, I usually choose to do so by immersing myself into a cool culture—food, drink, art, etc.—not whiling away a whole weekend on the sand. Luckily, I was wrong on both fronts. The more I looked into Bermuda (and the more I had to hear my roommate prattle on about how cool it was), the more I wanted to go: The place has history. Little did I know, it was the first successful English settlement in the Americas. The town of St. George's dates back all the way to 1612. And even today, it has a big expat population from the U.K. (Curries served in pubs is common fare in Bermuda). I've been hankering to get back to England since I studied abroad there in college. Now, maybe, was my chance to get a taste of British culture—with some beautiful beaches thrown in—for a fraction of the cost. Plus, I learned, Michael Douglas was born there. He and Catherine Zeta have a house there. Who doesn't want to spot Gordon Gekko in his native habitat? I was sold. So, less than two weeks before my roommate's departure date, I frantically scrambled to join the party. Lo and behold, I managed to book a nonstop flight from Newark to Bermuda's Hamilton International for $213. My roommate scoured the Web and secured a discounted rate at a newly renovated resort, the Newstead Belmont Hills. We invited two more friends along to siphon the cost (and add to the fun, of course), and that was that. We were off! The flight went seamlessly: I caught an 11:55 a.m. out of Newark—and was in my bikini, relaxing by the Newstead's infinity pool, by 4 p.m. We watched the sun dip down from our room's private balcony! Then we caught a $6 cab ride, around the bay, into the capital town of Hamilton. My roommate's friend from work, a 20-something Australian who live on Bermuda, was nice enough to show us around, so I felt like less of a clueless tourist than I might have otherwise. He took us for British pub fare at the Hog Penny: I tried the steak and kidney pie (flakey crust and delicious cuts of meat), and my friends had fish and chips (they gobbled it up before I could snatch a bite and said it was great). The Australian also insisted we try Bermuda's two signature drinks: the Dark & Stormy, made with rum and ginger beer (too strong for my liking), and the Rum Swizzle, a fruitier concoction that went down a lot smoother. Finally we danced it off at The Pickled Onion down the block. Saturday, we caught a free shuttle from the Newstead across the island to Elbow Beach: a quiet white-sand strip that looks out across some of the clearest, most turquoise water I've ever seen. We spent the morning watching the kiteboarders and swimming, then hoofed it back to our hotel. There's a convenient, well-marked footpath that runs alongside sprawling farms and gardens and cuts across the island, and we were back at the Newstead in twenty minutes. That night, we caught another ride into Hamilton from a friendly cab driver, who claimed the Douglas family as his close friends (sadly, the closest I got to a spotting). He recommended a few restaurants for us to try, and we opted for his Italian suggestion: Little Venice. I ordered gnocchi, with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes: divine. The four of us were scheduled to fly out Sunday afternoon, so we woke up early and made the most of the infinity pool and hot tub all the morning. (Temperatures hovered in the low 70's so a combo of both felt best.) The weekend had gone by too quickly, but I felt like I'd gotten my money's worth. Our suite at the Newstead, with two double beds and its own private balcony overlooking the Atlantic, ran a pricey $544, but split between me and my three friends (the room comfortably fit all of us), we came out sitting pretty and each paid just $68 a night. And with such a short commute, from the beach back to my apartment in New York City, my vacation-state-of-mind lasted well past its typical shelf life. Now that I've been, I wonder if there aren't other weekend escape options that are just as fun, relaxing, and cheap… So, here I hand the microphone off to you: What's your favorite, affordable, last-minute weekend escape? Tell me your best itineraries, in the comment section below, and we can take a travel cue from each other. That said, here's the rundown: FLY: A recent Kayak search found non-stop flights from NYC's airports to Bermuda's Hamilton International on JetBlue, Continental, and American for as little as $222. (Did I mention the flight's less than two hours long?) Flights from Atlanta started at $305, while Chicago options began at $323. SLEEP: The Newstead Belmont Hills Resort & Spa is a 20-minute walk from Elbow Beach and a five-minute, $6 cab ride from Hamilton. EAT: For British-style pub fare, try the Hog Penny Restaurant & Pub, in Hamilton. Also in the capital is Little Venice, a tasty pasta and wine spot. DANCE: The place to go to get down in Hamilton is The Pickled Onion. SWIM: You'll find gorgeous Elbow Beach on the west shore, near the middle of the skinny island of Bermuda. DEALS: For hand-picked hotel discounts and vacation packages, check out Budget Travel's Real Deals for Bermuda. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Just Back From…a Mother-Daughter Trip to Rome & Venice *This post was re-published 4/29 to remove the accidental reference to the Caribbean. Sorry.