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How the largest hotel chains are giving back amid a pandemic
All around the world, hotels and travel companies have been doing what they can to help communities affected by the pandemic and show appreciation for essential workers and healthcare staff working to make a difference in the fight against Covid-19. From familiar hotel brands and B&Bs to wineries and corporate travel companies, here’s a look at some of the ways they’ve helped support small businesses and keep hope alive this year. Hyatt Hyatt has been pretty busy this year, with roughly 60 properties worldwide helping small businesses stay afloat with a new initiative called Hyatt Loves Local. Here in the U.S., Hyatt Regency Atlanta offered complimentary use of its kitchen and lobby spaces to support Anna Bell’s Mac & Cheese, while Andaz West Hollywood let local business Barcode Barbershop take over its rooftop for two months of outdoor haircuts and styling treatments. Other Hyatt hotels, like Motif Seattle and Grand Hyatt Vail, helped community businesses open onsite pop-ups—a mobile coffee cart for Monorail Espresso in Seattle and a pop-up shop for women’s clothing boutique Wild Heart in Vail—while Gild Hall in New York City arranged for BACH Fitness to host socially distant yoga and pilates classes so the company could stay open. Hyatt is also offering a special Friends & Family rate as a way to show appreciation for healthcare workers when they book with promo code THANKYOU on stays now through September 12, 2021. World of Hyatt loyalty program members can also donate Hyatt points toward free stays for healthcare staff and other frontline workers. Hilton Hilton’s approach has been a little different, with many individual properties offering ways to give back in addition to larger-scale corporate efforts made earlier this year, like donating one million rooms to medical professionals, partnering with World Central Kitchen and other worldwide endeavors. Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino is donating $25 per night to one of two local charities when you book a Give Back Aruba package, while a portion of Forest Therapy spa treatments at Waldorf Astoria Atlanta Buckhead will go to Trees Atlanta, which supports the conservation and creation of green spaces around the city. In Colorado, The Curtis is donating $5 from every Don’t Eat Yellow Snow package to the Ronald McDonald House of Denver. Just in time for Christmas, three hotels—Conrad New York Downtown, Conrad Washington, D.C. and Conrad Dublin—are partnering with local children’s hospitals to host a “Hotline to the North Pole,” on December 23 and 24, a video conference link letting little ones chat with Santa Claus. Members of Hilton’s loyalty program can aso redeem Hilton Honors points for donations to several charities and nonprofit organizations by linking their account with partner site, PointWorthy. InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG Hotels & Resorts) Besides allowing IHG Rewards Club members to donate their IHG points to charitable causes like the American Red Cross, Goodwill and The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, IHG has been doing its part to recognize the efforts of essential workers around the world, awarding complimentary stays to those who deserve it most. One essential worker in the U.K., for instance, was given a surprise trip to the Hotel Indigo Stratford-Upon-Avon after missing her 26th wedding anniversary because the healthcare facility where she worked made her stay there for 12 weeks. Marriott As a way to show appreciation for the brave men and women working on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19, Marriott is offering special rates for Community Caregivers—healthcare workers, first responders and their families—at participating properties within the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. To get the discount, qualified essential workers can book stays by March 31, 2021, and must show valid identification from your medical, government, military or relief organization when they check in. The Copper Door B&B and Rosie’s Pop-Up in Miami While Jamila Ross and Akino West, owners of The Copper Door B&B in Miami’s historic Overtown neighborhood, have been forced to make some adjustments this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic—the B&B’s legendary communal breakfast has since evolved into Rosie’s, a pop-up restaurant where guests can save 20%—they’re still paying it forward. The two hospitality entrepreneurs made headlines earlier this year when they cooked and delivered weekly meals to volunteers at the local World Central Kitchen outpost, Red Rooster, and it’s something they’ve continued to do ever since. Today, The Copper Door B&B is operating at 50% capacity with Covid-safe measures in place while Rosie’s remains open for brunch, serving up Soul Food classics like shrimp & grits and chicken & waffles as well as Italian-inspired dishes like Southern-style polenta and lemon ricotta pancakes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. TripActions Corporate travel and expense management company TripActions found yet another meaningful way to give back to its local community this year. When students in San Francisco neighborhoods hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly found themselves having to attend school from home, many of them without the proper equipment or Wi-Fi access, TripActions’ Head of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Shaka Senghor led the company’s efforts to donate more than 100 laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots and other technology through its partnerships with Hack the Hood, Climb Hire and Burton High School. The donations helped ensure students enrolled in tech training programs would have what they needed to continue their studies, including mentorship opportunities, while students at Burton High School were given the option to have monthly care packages with snacks sent to their homes. Kendall-Jackson Wines Earlier this fall, Sonoma County based winery Kendall-Jackson partnered with United Way Worldwide to create the Grocery Worker’s Relief Fund in an effort to provide up to $250 in cash cards and other pandemic-related emergency assistance via United Way’s 211 crisis services to essential workers currently employed by supermarkets and retail stores with grocery departments. So far, Kendall-Jackson has pledged $200,000 for the first year, committing to $2 million in support through August 2030.
Around New York City in 9 Pastries
When it comes to sweets, New York City takes the cake. From passing trends (Cronut, anyone?) to stalwart favorites (we're looking at you, cannolis. And eclairs. And macaroons.) there's no shortage of temptation. But the city's dessert offerings go far beyond those familiar treats, and that’s due in no small part to the many immigrants who come here, recipes and culinary traditions in hand. A tour of the specialty bakeries throughout Manhattan and its boroughs is a portrait of the diversity that makes the city so unique. We rounded up a sampling of international sweets, each from an eatery that's easy to get to with a MetroCard, so there's no excuse for limiting yourself to cheesecake and chocolate-chip cookies on your next visit. 1. Khao Nom (Liza Weisstuch) When Saralai Sarapaivanit, who goes by Jackie, moved to the U.S. from Thailand several decades ago, she couldn’t find many eateries making tub tim krob, a cold soup-like delicacy with pandan-jelly bits bobbing in a base of barely sweet coconut milk alongside pieces of crunchy water chestnut. She also couldn’t find many places to buy sweet steamed pumpkin, small tins of coconut custard with corn and tapioca pearls at the bottom, or lustrous luk chup, a marzipan-like sweet made with mung bean and molded to look like mini peaches and cherry tomatoes. So she and her brother-in-law opened Khao Nom, a bakery in Elmhurst, Queens, where they make their own. That’s just a small sampling of the hot and chilled dessert selection served in this high-ceilinged, laid-back space, where the tables are huge slabs of weathered wood set on vintage sewing machine bases. Stay put for the night to sample the bakery's brief menu of rice dishes, or check out the adjacent Khao Kang, the family's full-service Thai restaurant. 2. Lee Lee's Rugelach In this supremely diverse city, you’ll find El Salvadorian and Colombian men tossing pizzas, Chinese people rolling bagels, and a Nepalese man and former Everest sherpa who’s been slicing paper-thin smoked fish at Russ & Daughters, one of the country’s most celebrated Jewish delis, since 2002. And then there’s the legendary Alvin “Lee Lee” Smalls, an African-American man from South Carolina who runs a rugelach empire from his charming, vintage-chic bakery in Harlem. The traditional Jewish pastry, something like a tiny croissant with a harder, yet just as flaky, spool of dough rolled up with jam, chocolate or, at Lee Lee’s Rugelach By a Brother (leeleesrugelach.com), even more creative ingredients. He sells over 1,000 pieces of rugelach each weekend and he'll certainly tack on about a dozen more the weekend you drop by. 3. Ole & Steen (Liza Weisstuch) In Denmark, spandauer, kloben, and carnival buns are as common as donuts and chocolate-chip cookies are here. Those traditional treats are just a few of the specialties at Ole & Steen (oleandsteen.us), a bakery with 89 outlets in Denmark and 10 in the U.K. But with the opening of the first U.S. store in Union Square this past January, and two more in the works, New Yorkers can have their fill of those pastries and more. The bakery features shelves upon shelves of Copenhagens (marzipan wrapped in a moist, flaky crust), cinnamon swirls, marzipan slices, and marshmallow puffs, as well as those aforementioned kloben buns (cardamom-and-clove-spiced soft rolls with raisins) and spandauers, which look like what we refer to as a Danish. There’s also a variety of bread for sale, including sourdoughs made with a 150-year-old starter. The place is a spacious café with coffee drinks and smorrebrod (Scandinavian open-face sandwiches) on the menu, so make yourself comfortable and settle in. 4. Brooklyn Kolache Co. Brooklyn Kolache Company (brooklynkolacheco.com), an airy café in the rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, sells all the things other cafés in Bed-Stuy do: espresso, cappuccino, matcha, vegan buns. And it sells something the others don’t: kolaches. A traditional dessert in the Czech Republic and Poland that found its way to fame in Texas, these sweet rolls are made of a lump of yeast-risen dough that envelops sweet or savory fillings. PB&J, chocolate, and jam are among the regularly changing former, while savory picks include cheese, eggs, turkey, and sausage. Owner Autumn Stanford, a Texas expat, has done her homeland proud. 5. Al Sham Sweets & Pastries (Liza Weisstuch) What Nathan’s Famous is to hot dogs and Peter Luger Steak House is to the T-bone, Al Sham Sweets & Pastries is to baklava. That’s to say: a New York standard-bearer. This cash-only Jordanian bakery sits amid Halal markets and Middle Eastern restaurants in a corner of Astoria, a neighborhood that’s grown increasingly trendy in recent years. Throughout the changing times, this compact operation has cranked out the same exquisite baklava every day. Native to both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries like Greece, these treats are dense layers of filo dough and nuts soaked in a delicate rosewater-spiked honey syrup, making them at once rich and ethereal. The baklava comes in four flavors—pistachio, almond, cashew, and walnut—as well as different shapes and sizes. They’re all made in-house in massive batches to accommodate the steady stream of customers throughout the day. Al Sham is also a destination for kunafeh, a dessert said to have originated in Palestine. Prepared in a flat pan, with a syrup-soaked thin dough spread with sweet cheese, it's like pizza's sweeter cousin, and a delicacy unlike any other in NYC. 6. Breads Bakery (Courtesy Breads Bakery) When you walk into Breads Bakery in Union Square or Lincoln Center (breadsbakery.com), the smell of butter is so think, you can almost taste it in the air. That's because of the loaves of fresh babka that frequently emerge from the oven throughout the day. Babka, a traditional Eastern European hybrid of cake and half yeasted bread, is not new to New York, what with immigrants coming from those countries for generations. What is new is its ubiquity, and we have Breads largely to thank for that. (Or to blame, if you’re watching your calorie intake.) These rich loaves, woven through with ribbons of Nutella and chocolate chips, are habit-forming, to say the least. Not surprising, then, that you save $2.50 per loaf when you buy two. (PS: There's a year-round Breads kiosk in Bryant Park near the New York Public Library. A little too convenient, if you ask us.) 7. Harbs Here in the U.S., most of us know green tea as the staple hot drink in Japanese restaurants, but in Japan, it’s a common flavor of all kinds of desserts. Little surprise, then, that the green tea mousse cake is a popular pick at Harbs (harbsnyc.com), a 37-year-old Tokyo-based chain that opened its first restaurant outside of Japan in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in 2014, followed by outposts in Soho and on the Upper East Side. There are French accents all over the place at these posh, handsome eateries: Tiled walls and wood accents give them a Parisian bistro vibe, and classic French baking techniques inform many of the cakes. But it’s the native ingredients, most imported from Japan, that make the desserts so intriguing. That aforementioned green tea cake incorporates earthy matcha in the sponge cake and specks of red bean in its green-tea mousse. Freshly whipped cream makes an appearance here and in several other desserts, including Harbs’s version of a French tart, where the cream is flecked with red bean. 8. Andre's Bakery (Liza Weisstuch) Never mind apple strudel. At Andre's Bakery (andresbakery.com), poppy seed, cherry, sweet cheese, and even savory options like cabbage, spinach, and feta run a tight race when it comes to most popular. The buttery, flaky strudels are made in-house daily with owner Andres's mother’s original recipe. In 1976, the Hungarian expat opened the first shop in in Forest Hills, a quiet, family-centric neighborhood in Queens, about five miles south of LaGuardia Airport. Since then, her son has carried out her legacy and opened two more shops, both on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. (The 2nd Avenue location is also a restaurant-café that serves hearty, traditional dishes and Hungarian wines.) Other Hungarian desserts on offer include palacsinta, a crepe-like indulgence, and dobos torte, a fluffy, caramel-topped sponge cake layered with chocolate butter cream. All the desserts are made fresh daily in the original store. 9. La Gran Uruguaya Dulce de leche, a caramel custard, is easy to find around New York City, especially in bakeries and restaurants in the many Spanish neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. A little less common is a flaky pastry filled with the stuff eclair-style. That’s just one of the highlights at La Gran Uruguaya (la-gran-uruguaya.com), a no-frills bakery-cafe in Jackson Heights, arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Queens, and possibly the whole city. Spongy tres leches cakes, banana tarts, flan, mousse, and tortitas negra, an Argentinian specialty, fill the expansive cases. This eatery also serves savory dishes, but when it comes to Latin American desserts, it’s tough to find a selection as varied as the one here.
Discover These 10 NYC Museums
The Met and the Guggenheim are world-famous—worthy of a pilgrimage, some would say—but New York's museums extend far beyond the 28-block stretch of Fifth Avenue that's official recognized as Museum Mile. Smaller institutions throughout the city's five boroughs bring various aspects of local history, industry, and culture to life. From Midtown Manhattan to Staten Island to the Bronx, here are 10 gems that shine. Shining a light on maritime history: National Lighthouse Museum Everyone knows that New York City has historically been a center of finance, art, and theater. It’s nautical history, however, remains a bit under the radar. That heritage comes to life at the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island, just a quick walk from the ferry terminal. Located in a 1912 foundry building on the former site of the once bustling US Lighthouse Service’s General Depot (one of the six remaining buildings from the original 18), the largely self-guided museum explains everything you never thought there was to know about lighthouse upkeep, the life of lightkeepers, and the physics of light projection. You’ll never look at nautical navigation the same way again. Picture perfect: Museum of the Moving Image It's no stretch to think of the Museum of the Moving Image like a mini-Smithsonian Institute, what with its all-encompassing collection that represent American culture. The museum, which opened in Astoria, Queens, in 1981 in the former home of the once illustrious Astoria Studios, features about 130,000 objects relating to film, television, sports and news broadcasting, and even video games. Plus, there was a recent exciting development: A Jim Henson exhibit, once a temporary display of all things Muppets and Sesame Street, became a permanent part of the museum's collection in 2017. Add that to everything from costumes from Gone With the Wind to vintage cartoon and comic book memorabilia to old-fashioned film and recording equipment and vintage movie theater furnishings, and an afternoon here presents a vivid portrait of America’s love affair with entertainment. It all adds up: National Museum of Mathematics (Courtesy Museum of Mathematics) Algebra and geometry might not be part of your most riveting high school memories, but the family-friendly Museum of Mathematics, a two-story tech-forward playground that opened near Madison Square Park in Manhattan in 2012, wants to change your opinions of algorithms, physics and optics. Committed to showing how so many of the glorious things we take for granted are a direct consequence of an intricate natural numbers game, it offers interactive exhibits are designed to illuminate how shapes, angles, curves, and motion work. That’s no small undertaking, but with exhibits like a pixilated floor that reacts to movement and a rectangle-wheeled tricycle that moves smoothly along a corrugated track, odds are you’ll walk out excited to talk about paraboloids, catenaries, and tessellation. Logically. Next stop: New York Transit Museum (Demerzel21/Dreamstime) Between delays and overcrowding, the New York subway system gets a bad rap. But when you stop and think about the fact that the 150-plus-year old system with 472 stations—the most of any mass transit operation in the world—runs 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, delays are a small price to pay to ride on this remarkable network. The New York Transit Museum, located in a 1936 subway station in downtown Brooklyn, features vintage cars dating back to 1907 and permanent exhibits that pay tribute to engineering, construction, employees, and many other aspects that ensure the system keeps people moving. Historical artifacts, old signage, video footage, photography, and structures like vintage turnstiles collectively tell the dynamic story of this system that has helped define New York City. Temporary exhibits cover topics like the subway’s role in comic books. And yes, the museum is walking distance from four subway stations and six different lines, so be sure to take the train here. Coming to America: Tenement Museum Few images of late 19th- and early 20th-century American history are more iconic than those of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. The Tenement Museum offers a snapshot of their lives once they settled in New York City. Located on the fast-gentrifying Lower East Side in two tenement buildings, a National Historic Site that housed an estimated 15,000 working class people between 1863 and 2014, the museum presents interactive exhibits and displays that tell vivid stories about families adopting new identities and making new lives for themselves. Throughout fives floors of exhibits, you’ll learn about garment factory workers, kosher butchers, and shop owners, transmitting a vivid sense of what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. There’s also a variety of neighborhood walking tours, including one that samples the area’s ethnic foods and one that points out historic sites that played into the daily immigrant experience. Be a part of it: Museum of the City of New York (Courtesy Filip Wolak) For a deep dive into the history of this ever-changing metropolis and work by some of its most renowned residents, the Museum of the City of New York is hard to beat. Housed in a 1932 Georgian Colonial-Revival building in East Harlem, the institution is a tribute to the city's status as a hub of urban creativity. With an impressive collection of some 750,000 objects spanning photography and sculpture to costumes and theatrical memorabilia, there’s too much to display at one time, but with rotating exhibits drawing from such a varied collection, there’s bound to be something for everyone here. Broadway nerds will thrill to Eugene O’Neill’s handwritten drafts and Gershwin Brothers’ memorabilia, while those fascinated by the details will appreciate maps and ephemera from the 17th century on. You can even see hand-painted casts of famous New York boxers’ hands in the sculpture collection. Northern exposure: Museum of Bronx History Aside from pilgrimages to Yankee Stadium and the other Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, the Bronx doesn’t get much non-local love. And that’s a shame, because the Museum of Bronx History is well worth the trek north. Located in a 1758 house – the borough’s second-oldest – with original details like oak and pine floorboards and hand-forged nails, the building that holds the museum survived a two-day, one-block move in the 1960s and is now as much an attraction as its contents. Opened in 1968, the museum’s main level features two galleries with rotating exhibits and a permanent display in the front parlor that digs into the Bronx backstory, from the arrival of the Dutch to the booting of the British. Get on board: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (Tomasz Wozniak/Dreamstime) It’s not often that you get the chance to live out your Top Gun fantasies and learn about America’s history of science and service at the same time, but at Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, you can do just that. A legendary aircraft carrier that faced kamikaze attacks and torpedo strikes during World War II, tracked Soviet submarines during the Cold War, picked up NASA astronauts on their return from space in the ‘60s, and served three tours of duty in Vietnam, the Intrepid is now docked on the Hudson River, where it hosts more than a million visitors a year. Explore the ship from top to bottom – or, to be specific, from the flight deck to the third deck – to get a feel for life as a recruit. And be sure to allow time for the rest of the museum’s collection, too. Featuring an array of carefully preserved and restored aircraft, there are plenty of superlatives to see, including the world’s first space shuttle, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier on its maiden voyage, and the plane flown by the first President Bush during World War II. A family affair: Museum of the American Gangster From Al Capone to The Godfather, little holds a place in the American imagination like the Mafia, and at the Museum of the American Gangster in the East Village, you can descend into the criminal underworld – for an afternoon, at least. A former speakeasy turned shrine to organized crime, the two-room museum investigates the role of illegal enterprise in the development of cities like New York and Chicago, from politics and culture to myths and urban legends. Plus, it boasts a collection of artifacts that would make even the most hardened mobster jealous, from the shell casings from the shootout that ended Bonnie and Clyde’s bank-robbing spree to the death masks of John Dillinger. No vows of loyalty required for entry. Fun and games: Coney Island Museum (Courtesy Norman Blake) Home to a world-famous hot-dog eating contest, a legendary boardwalk, a long-running, near-legendary sideshow, and a 91-year-old wooden roller coaster that’s earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, Brooklyn’s Coney Island has served as a respite from city life since its inaugural hotel went up in the 1920s. You can learn about its storied history at the Coney Island Museum. Founded in 1981 and located just across the street from a subway terminus, this small second-story establishment is like wandering into an eccentric uncle’s attic. Past the funhouse mirrors, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage ephemera and antique collectibles – photos, ticket stubs, postcards, game signage, and actual cars from decommissioned coasters – as well as exhibitions detailing the amusement parks that came before, and the neighborhood’s evolution from upscale retreat to freak-friendly phenomenon to G-rated vacation destination. It’s the perfect place to embrace your weird side.
10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2011
Once in a while, you discover a town that has everything—great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose. Each year, the Budget Travel team celebrates these places with our "Coolest Small Towns in America" competition. It starts with a call to you—our readers—to nominate the most interesting towns you know with populations of less than 10,000. From there, our editorial team whittles the selections down to the three most promising contenders. It's then up to you to vote on your favorite. This year's winner was Lewisburg—an irresistible small town in West Virginia. Each of the nine runners up has something special to offer, from the quiet, artistic enclave at La Pointe, Wisconsin to the scenic beaches of Astoria, Oregon. In honor of the sixth anniversary of our "Coolest Towns" franchise, we've also compiled a slideshow of all of the contenders from previous years. You won't find a more charming slice of small town Americana than you will right here. 1. LEWISBURG, WEST VIRGINIA (POPULATION 3,830) Arts in AppalachiaA small town is usually lucky if there's a decent one-screen movie theater, maybe a community dance troupe. But a Carnegie Hall? This speck on the map in the Greenbrier River Valley lays claim to one of only four in the world (105 Church St., carnegiehallwv.com, ticket prices vary). The 1902 building now serves as Lewisburg's creative control tower, attracting an unlikely band of artistic characters, back-to-the-land types, and retirees. Jeanne and Michael Christie embody Lewisburg's blend. The duo run the Davenport House B&B, where guests can bottle-feed one of the property's baby lambs after taking coffee and breakfast on their private patio (Tibbiwell Lane, off of Davis Stuart Rd., thedavenporthouse.com, one-bedroom cottage from $120). Michael is a painter whose work has shown in New York City's Hoorn-Ashby gallery, and Jeanne is the former director of front-office operations at the Greenbrier hotel, 10 miles down the road. "You know, you always think of the ideal American town, where the kids are safe, the streets are clean. We have that, but we also have Wynton Marsalis coming through," says Jeanne, who'd just finished a morning of shearing sheep. While Michael is a seventh-generation West Virginian, many of their friends and neighbors are newer to the community, drawn in large part by the creative atmosphere anchored by Carnegie. For example, Hall Hitzig, who goes by the moniker the Crazy Baker, came in 1986 and "never looked back" (thecrazybaker.com). Now, he makes granola in the nearby mountains—and sells it everywhere from Puerto Rico to Arkansas. Hitzig's sticky toffee cake also wins raves at Lewisburg's sunny Stardust Café (102 E. Washington St., stardustcafewv.com, cake slice $8). At Stardust, co-run by Hitzig's twin sister, Destiny, and her daughter Sparrow, glasses are filled with "local spring water" (don't call it tap), and the greens are cultivated largely in local gardens. Lewisburg's arts scene is hardly limited to traditional performers like Marsalis; next door to Stardust, for instance, Tamera Pence identifies the potter of each espresso mug at her year-old emporium, Bella the Corner Gourmet (100 E. Washington St., bellathecornergourmet.com, mugs from $14). "We're very locally driven here," she explains. "And we're also a central hub. I have clients bringing their coolers in all the way from Charleston, more than two and a half hours away." -Nina Willdorf 2. ASTORIA, OREGON (POPULATION 9,477) Pioneers on the PacificAstoria has always been on the frontier, both the Lewis and Clark variety (they set up camp here in 1805) and the geographic (it sits both at the mouth of the Columbia River and in a teeming temperate rain forest). Sure, the place has prettied itself up nicely since those pioneer days with the addition of aging Victorians and craftsman-style bungalows, but the folks in sleepy coastal Astoria have never lost touch with their rough-and-tumble side. Take, for example, the surfers off of Astoria's scenic beaches, where ocean temperatures rarely break 60 degrees until midsummer. "You really have to suit up," says Mark Taylor, owner of Cold Water Surf (1001 Commercial St., coldwatersurf.com). "We're talking five-millimeter wet suits, gloves, and booties—but Astorians have always been a tough bunch!" Even the city's swankiest design hotel, the Commodore, embraces a decidedly masculine and nautical aesthetic (258 14th St., commodoreastoria.com, from $89). Reopened two years ago after being shuttered since 1966, the property pairs modern furnishings with sly nods to the city's history as a seaside cannery hub: thick braided ropes, nautical charts, and fishing floats. As afternoon rolls around, locals gather at the four-year-old Fort George Brewery + Public House for burgers made from local beef, as well as pints of the hoppy Vortex IPA, the Belgian-style Quick Wit ale, and as of this year, the 1811 Pre-Prohibition Lager, created in honor of Astoria's bicentennial (1483 Duane St., fortgeorgebrewery.com, pints from $4.25). You didn't really think these former pioneers would celebrate with champagne, did you? -Beth Collins 3. CLAYTON, NEW YORK (POPULATION 1,978) A River Runs to ItSome shore communities take their location for granted. Not so with Clayton. "I have lunch on the river every day," says Gregory Ingerson, a guide at the 320-ship Antique Boat Museum (750 Mary St., abm.org, admission $12). The curators are so proud of their nautical heritage that they use Q-tips to clean the exhibits, right down to the well-preserved heel marks in the floor of one turn-of-the-century houseboat. Clayton sits on a peninsula that juts out into the St. Lawrence River, so far north that the fire department's boat flies the American and Canadian flags. One of the benefits of that isolation is that the river itself is like a neighbor. In the summer, the old ferry terminal, where wealthy visitors once caught rides to their cottages on the Thousand Islands (birthplace of Thousand Island salad dressing), now hosts concerts. Out on the water, the family-run Ferguson Fishing Charters offers morning fishing trips followed by picnics on a private island, where a guide cooks the day's catch over a fire for lunch (fergusonfishingcharters.com, half-day charters for a group of four $325). Back on dry land, K's Motel & Cottages' two-night "ship watch special" includes a room, a two-and-a-half-hour boat cruise, admission to the Antique Boat Museum, and two meals (1075 State St., thousandislands.com/k, $159 per person). -Ray Pagliarulo 4. EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS (POPULATION 2,073) Honeymoons and MoreSure, you could sleep in one of the Queen Anne-style B&Bs, visit the monumental 67-foot-tall hilltop Christ of the Ozarks, catch a Branson-style show, or hunt for ghosts in the historic downtown. You could easily spend a week on the tourist circuit in this late-1800s Victorian spa retreat. But you'd never get to meet the real Eureka Springs. Eureka Springs may be the honeymoon capital of the Ozarks, but don't let the kitschy, heart-shaped Jacuzzis fool you. "The guy on the street corner playing fiddle?" says local artist Cathy Harris. "He is a trained concert violinist." "And those men at the bar just may be geniuses," adds Harris's husband, J.D., a sculptor with beaded gray dreadlocks. "We had a team win the international Mensa competition two years in a row." The current of creativity bubbles up just about everywhere, if you look hard enough. At the Eureka Thyme gallery, Marsha Havens skips the trinkets of other tourist traps in favor of works that draw on Ozark inspirations: wooden bowls made from found downed trees and clay bird whistles that warble like the real thing (19 Spring St., eurekathyme.com, wooden bowls from $50). You might even say that an artisan spirit is part of the recipe of Garden Bistro, where partners Lana Campbell and Robert Herrera draw from local ingredients for their Amish-style bread baked in flowerpots and unfussy plates of family-style veggies grown on her farm (119 N. Main St., 479/253-1281, pork chops $19). The biggest surprise of all may be the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, a palatial ivy-covered grand hotel with claw-foot tubs and manicured gardens (75 Prospect Ave., crescent-hotel.com, doubles from $129). From this perch, you'll be inclined to look back to see Eureka Springs, but the leafy Ozarks keep the valley all but hidden from view—an apt vista for a town dubbed Tree City USA. -Nicholas DeRenzo 5. LA POINTE, WISCONSIN (POPULATION 309) A Superior HamletIt's called the Island Wave, and to the folks on Madeline Island—a quiet, North Woods enclave of artists on Lake Superior—it means you greet everyone, even when you're driving. It's a lovely idea, but in summer it can get, well, dangerous. That's when La Pointe, the island's only town, swells with visitors. "The line goes out the door for hours on July 4th," says Marie Noha, owner of the Mission Hill Coffee House (105-106 Lakeview Pl., on Middle Rd., 715/747-3100, coffee $1.45). And then there's the winter, when the only way off Manhattan-size Madeline is by wind sled or ice road. Then the Island Wave becomes a way to connect to the outside world. "I don't mind the loneliness," says Amitty Romundstad, manager of the Inn on Madeline Island (641 Main St., madisland.com, doubles from $95). The literary and opera societies meet in the off-season, and occasionally there's a gorgeous show put on courtesy of the northern lights, when hearty La Pointe locals gather on the ice road to be dazzled together. "We're not a community," says novelist and boat captain Richard Coleman. "We're a tribe." -Debra Weiner 6. PHOENICIA, NEW YORK (POPULATION 309) A Riverside RetreatThe library in Phoenicia burned down this spring, and suddenly there were books everywhere. Not casualties of the fire, but boxes and boxes of donations to replace what was lost. Residents now check out books (and fishing poles) at the temporary library branch housed in the old medical building on Ava Maria Drive. Phoenicia may look like a one-street river town sandwiched between hills in New York's Catskills—it does a wicked tubing business in the summer—but it's got a bookish, cosmopolitan vibe in its soul. "It's not just crazy guys with cars in their yards," says Michael Koegel of Mama's Boy, a hip little cafe and smoothie bar (7 Church St., mamasboymarket.com, mac 'n' cheese $4.95). Like Koegel, many Phoenicians came from Manhattan, and they've brought a healthy dose of quirk with them. For instance, former New Yorker Alan Fliegel, who owns A Community Store, sells locally made clothing and underground comic books—and runs a well-stocked communal art gallery upstairs (60 Main St., 845/688-5395, comic books from $1). Yet like its library that loans fishing poles, Phoenicia hasn't lost touch with its down-home roots. If you spend the night at the cozy Phoenicia Lodge, you may feel like you've woken up in Mayberry (5987 Rte. 28, phoenicialodge.com, doubles from $70). You certainly will after breakfast at Sweet Sue's Restaurant (49 Main St., 845/688-7852, mixed-berry pancakes from $5.25). The pancakes (pumpkin, pineapple-coconut, and 20-plus other varieties) are legendary, as are the lines waiting to get inside. -R.P. 7. NEWTOWN BOROUGH, PENNSYLVANIA (POPULATION 2,384) Amish Country CharmNewtown Borough isn't the kind of place where you'd expect to see millionaires tooling around in a fancy car. In fact, the rural Bucks County burg is close enough to Amish Country that most of the convertibles around these parts are horses-and-buggies. But when Rick Krotz and his brother-in-law Bill Kane hit an astounding sort of daily doubl—Krotz won $607,000 on the Cash 5 lottery in 2006, and Kane netted $3 million from a single scratch-off ticket in 2009—this is exactly the place they wanted to be. Both men grew up nearby and had always loved Newtown's well-worn charms. It's home to the nation's oldest movie theater, Newtown Theatre, a 375-seat, red-brick treasure that's been in operation since 1906 (120 N. State St., newtowntheatre.com, tickets $9). The Brick Hotel, built in 1764 and still looking sharp decked out in hunter green shutters and striped awnings, is one of the few places that can honestly claim that George Washington slept here (1 E. Washington Ave., brickhotel.com, doubles from $80). And director M. Night Shyamalan likes the look of Newtown so much, he filmed Signs here in 2002. So last year, the lottery brothers bought Ned's Cigar Store (4 S. State St., nedscigar.com, cigars from $3). It's now filled with mahogany chairs, cherrywood cabinets—and a steady stream of hopeful lotto-ticket buyers. "I guess they think our luck might rub off on them," Krotz says. "That would really be the dream come true—to sell someone else a big winner." -Andrea Minarcek 8. CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA (POPULATION 896) Unspoiled on the GulfIf someone asked you where to get the best New England clam chowder, you might be inclined to say, "Duh, New England." You'd be wrong—by over 1,000 miles. For the past three years, the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., has been won by Tony's Seafood Restaurant of Cedar Key (597 2nd St., tonyschowder.com, cup $4.65). In fact, the town is America's second-largest producer of farmed clams, one of many surprises in this two-square-mile hamlet 130 miles north of Tampa. Despite its prime location on the Gulf of Mexico, Cedar Key has escaped the pull of developers-its spit of beach isn't long enough to attract large-scale building projects. Instead, it still feels like a ramshackle, old fishing village straight out of Hemingway. "People always say it's like Key West 30 years ago," says innkeeper Ada Lang. Built in 1919 and restored in 2004, Ada's Wabi Sabi Cottage is a time-capsule example of a "Cracker" cottage, a style of wood-frame house popular in the 19th century (689 4th St., 352/543-5696, from $130). The last time outside developers set their sights on Cedar Key was in the late 1880s, when pencil makers carted off the island's namesake cedars. (There's still a bit left in the worn wooden exteriors of tackle shops and clam shacks on Dock Street.) If you're looking to catch your own lunch, Kayak Cedar Keys offers boats specially equipped with rod holders and anchors, perfect for whiling away hours in search of redfish and trout (kayakcedarkeys.com, rentals $50 per day). Weary paddlers can rest up at Point Cottage, an octagonal stilt house overlooking Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge (12218 Franko Circle, pointcottage.com, $179 a night, sleeps six). And there's always dinner at Tony's. The menu is extensive, but don't you dare skip the chowder: The recipe has been entered into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall of Fame. -N.D. 9. RIPON, WISCONSIN (POPULATION 7,733) College Town PerfectionThey must have made odd neighbors: the Utopian Socialists on the prairie and the entrepreneurial abolitionists up on the hill. The socialists lived on a commune. The abolitionists later founded the Republican party. And yet, in the 1850s, they joined forces to found Ripon (the town) and then Ripon (the college). Town and gown have been intertwined ever since, proudly perched in the middle of the cornfields 85 miles northwest of Milwaukee. In some college towns, the locals and students get along like rivals at the Michigan-Ohio State football game. Not in Ripon. The professors sit on the local school board. The students sing in the church choirs, and church folk welcome the school's 1,000 or so students with a potluck every fall. Friday evenings in summer, across from the college president's office in the old public library, townies and academics alike turn out for concerts on the Village Green. "My favorite is Tuba Dan's polka band," says Professor Mary Avery, who oversees a student group that helps local businesses, such as the Watson Street Sub Shop, create financial plans (314 Watson St., watsonstreetsubs.com, subs from $6.75). Watson Street in turn lets the students use its storefront for fund-raisers. "We are the quintessential college town," says David Joyce, president of Ripon. "Or maybe it should be the quintessential town with a college?" -D.W. 10. GREENSBURG, KANSAS (POPULATION 777) The Real Emerald CityWhen you pull into Greensburg, you may well think you're not in Kansas anymore: Elegant wind turbines and LED streetlights have replaced cornfields and barns. After a 2007 tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, those who stayed vowed to build the ecofriendliest town ever. "Being green is such a part of our identity that people assume we changed our name after the storm," says Ruth Ann Wedel, site manager of GreenTown, the city's rebuilding campaign. (For the record, the "green" comes from stagecoach driver D.R. Green.) Like the name, the idea of going green dates back further than you'd expect. "These are not hippie-dippy concepts," says Stacy Barnes, director of the 5.4.7 Arts Center (204 W. Wisconsin Ave., 547artscenter.org, free). "These are the same tenets used in pioneer days—south-facing windows in chicken coops to increase sunlight, reusing everything like Mennonites do. We got lazy over the past century." The gallery, named for the day the storm hit, houses contemporary art from around the U.S. Many businesses here pay tribute to the past. Green Bean Coffee Co. serves milkshakes to fill the void left by the destruction of the old soda fountain (105 E. Kansas Ave., notyourmommascoffee.com, shakes $3.50). Nearby, you'll find innovations both high-tech (solar panels) and low (banisters made from tractor parts) at the Silo Eco-Home B&B (402 S. Sycamore St., 620/723-2790, doubles from $110). Just goes to show: It's not so hard being green after all. -N.D.
12 Most Iconic Rivers on Earth
Trace the great rivers of the world and you'll find you're tracing much of human civilization. Throughout the ages, these watercourses have provided sustenance for crops and have kick-started exploration, enterprise, and even empires. Of course you've heard of these rivers before—they've shaped the world as we know it and played a starring role in stories, songs, and spiritual beliefs along the way. But did you know that even today one of the best ways to learn about a region is to start with the nearest river? These waterways not only linked major cities and remote villages, but they also hold the secrets to everything from the local culture to the local cuisine. We've also outlined 12 incredible river cruises that will reveal their secrets to you. These trips might not come cheap, but they will take you on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through some of the most pivotal places on earth (plus meals and drinks are usually included). Read on and discover the rivers that have made the biggest splashes in the history of mankind. TAKE A PHOTO TOUR OF THE RIVERS Amazon The longest river in South America, the Amazon winds its way through six countries, three time zones, and an incredible 4,980 miles. The 300-feet-deep "river sea" also boasts the world's largest reservoir of fresh water—approximately one fifth of the planet's running water, and an incredible abundance and diversity of flora and fauna. Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana was the first person known to navigate the length of this gushing goliath in the 1540s, looking for the "Land of Cinnamon." Instead, he found turtle farms, advanced settlements with complex irrigation canals, and the fierce fighting women that subsequently gave the river its name.River cruise: Follow in Francisco's wake on the five- to 10-day Amazon Dream river cruise through the Brazilian Amazon on board the 18-passenger M/Y Tucano, a traditional wooden riverboat. Round-trip from Santarem, Brazil, 727/498-0234, rainforestcruises.com. From $1,295 per person for a five-day cruise. Mississippi The Big Muddy is mighty: It boasts the second-largest watershed in the world, covering more than 1.2 million square miles, plus tributaries from 33 states and two Canadian provinces. Its banks have been home to humans for 5,000 years and have witnessed history in the making, from Civil War battles to Civil Rights milestones. Explorers, fur traders, and settlers battled their way up and down this occasionally cantankerous river, changing the face of America as they went. The advent of the steamboat in 1812 cranked these changes up several knots and cut travel time between Louisville and New Orleans from as much as four months to just 20 days.River cruise: American Cruise Lines' 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi paddlewheeler journeys along the river, stopping at historic sites including Civil War battlefields and antebellum mansions. Round-trip from New Orleans, 800/460-4518, americancruiselines.com. From $3,995 per person for a seven-night cruise. Nile Egypt sits amid the most desolate desert on earth, the Sahara. But the 4,225-mile-long Nile turned this area into an oasis. The Egyptians became a rich agricultural society and the wonder of the ancient world by controlling the waters of The River and building the Valley of the Kings, the Ptolemaic Temple, and the Pyramids of Giza on its banks. By the year 3,100 B.C., this rich Nile Valley and Delta society had become the world's first large nation state. Today, Egypt remains one of the most important African countries.River cruise: Sonesta's six luxurious river boats ply the waters of the Nile with cruises taking in temples, tombs, and ruins. Round-trip from Luxor, 800/766-3782, sonesta.com. From $500 per cabin per night for three- to seven-night sailings in 2013 on the St. George I. Yangtze Asia's longest river flows south from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea, watering more than 700 tributaries along the way. The river has seen human activity along its banks for millennia, and acted as a border between warring kingdoms and as a transportation and commercial thoroughfare for centuries—it's essentially China's east-west highway. Imperial palaces, cities of canals, and intricate temples dot its banks. Its most famous sites include the incredible Three Gorges and the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam. River cruise: See the Three Gorges—25-mile-long Qutang, 25-mile-long Wu and 49-mile-long Xiling—and this mindboggling feat of engineering from Victoria Cruises' 268-passenger Victoria Anna on the eight-day Three Gorges Explorer. Round-trip from Chongqing, 800/348-8084, victoriacruises.com. From $1,820 per person for a seven-night cruise. Ganges The 1,557-mile Ganges gushes from a Himalayan ice cave, coursing eastward through the heart of Northern India to the Bay of Bengal, providing water for farming, industry, energy, transportation, drinking, bathing, and religious ceremonies from baptisms to burials. Sacred to Hindus who consider the river a goddess, its banks are home to pilgrimage sites, funeral ghats, yoga ashrams, and holy cities such as Varanasi and Allahabad. River cruise: Assam Bengal Navigation's Holy Ganges river cruise spends six nights following the Ganges on the ABN Sukapha, 24-passenger expeditionary ship. Patna to Calcutta, 714/556-8258, assambengalnavigation.com. From $295 per person per night for the six-night cruise. Mekong The world's 11th-longest river runs through 3,000 miles of Chinese, Burmese, Lao, Thai, Cambodian, and Vietnamese rice paddies, fish farms, and orchards. Its delta has been the site of countless battles—during the Vietnam War, the Indochina War, and the fight against the Khmer Rouge. Today, the peaceful, fertile 15,000-square-mile Mekong Delta is confettied with river galleys and slender sampan boats, carrying cargo from rice to potbellied pigs.River cruise: Avalon Waterways' 14-day Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Mekong River Cruise visits the Angkor temple region, tunnels left by the infamous Viet Cong, and provincial Cambodian capital Siem Reap. Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, 877/797-8791, avalonwaterways.com. From $3,269 per person including a seven-night cruise and hotel nights in Bangkok, Siem Reap, and Ho Chi Minh City. Danube The Danube has been a trading river since at least the 7th century, when Greek sailors did brisk business along its course. Before that, the Romans used the "Danuvius" as the northern boundary of their empire, building settlements such as Vindobona (Vienna), Aquincum (Budapest), and Singidunum (Belgrade) on its banks to keep out the barbarians. This once-vital medieval trading route can also claim responsibility for the rise of two great empires, the Austrian and the Hungarian. From its source in Germany's Black Forest, the Danube flows to the Black Sea via Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.River cruise: Ama Waterways' 12-day Legendary Danube trip includes three nights in Prague before you embark on a cruise along the Danube from Nuremberg to Budapest. Prague to Budapest, 800/626-0126, amawaterways.com. From $3,089 per person. Columbia Tumbling 1,200 miles from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, the Columbia is best known for its part in Lewis and Clark's 1805 expedition westward, for the gold rush of the 1860s, and for being such a formidable obstacle for pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Today, the Columbia divides Washington and Oregon for its final 309 miles, reaching Astoria, Oregon, at the treacherous Columbia Bar, once known as the "Graveyard of Ships". Wineries abound on both sides of the torrent and midday winds from the craggy Columbia River Gorge power a busy windsurfing scene on the river at the city of Hood River.River cruise: Take to the water on American Cruise Lines' seven-night Columbia and Snake river cruise on the Queen of the West, a 120-passenger paddleboat. Portland, Ore., to Clarkston, Wash., 800/460-4518, americancruiselines.com. From $3,695 per person for a seven-night cruise. Rhine Sometimes known as the "heroic Rhine" for its fairytale castles, terraced vineyards, and dramatic cliffs, this historic river flows from the mountains of Switzerland, through Western Germany to the North Sea near Rotterdam. The Rhine's central location has caused it to be fought over and used as a border since Roman times—Julius Caesar himself crossed the Rhine in 53 B.C. Today, its stunning scenery and spectacular wines make it a popular tourist destination.River cruise: Get your fill of castles, cathedrals, and canals on Uniworld's 164-passenger Super Ship Antoinette with the Castles Along the Rhine cruise. Basel to Amsterdam, 800/733-7820, uniworld.com. From $2,349 per person for a seven-night cruise. Orinoco The 1,300-mile Orinoco was first documented by Columbus in 1498, but its elusive source was not found until 1951. Situated in present-day Colombia and Venezuela, the Orinoco Delta covers more than 340,000 square miles and branches off into literally hundreds of off-shoot rivers and waterways. This watery wonderland is home to more than 1,000 species of birds, plus a huge variety of fish, from gargantuan 200-pound catfish to carnivorous piranhas.River cruise: Orinoco Delta Tours will get you close to this wealth of wildlife with its three-day river trip and lodge vacation on the Delta. Tucupita to Orinoco Delta Lodge, 011-58/295-249-1823, orinocodelta.com. From $260 per person for a two-night trip. Volga Europe's longest river is Russia's principal waterway. A crucial trade route since the Bulgars and the Khazars settled along it in the Middle Ages, its banks have since been invaded by Mongol hordes, Cossacks, revolting peasants, and anti-Putin demonstrators. Known as "Mother Volga" in Russia, the river has carried Russian colonization to the east, transported freight, and watered the vast steppes.River cruise: The 13-day Waterways of the Czars Cruise glides through Russia and the Ukraine, taking in majestic sights from the Kremlin and Red Square to Catherine the Great's Palace, the Hermitage, and the Golden Ring towns of Yaroslavl and Uglich. Moscow to St. Petersburg, 800/706-1483, vikingrivercruises.com. From $4,496 per person for a 12-night cruise. Thames Although archaeological evidence shows that people were trotting along the Thames as far back as 400,000 years ago, the Romans founded the river's most significant settlement, Londinium, a mere 2,000 years ago. The Thames may be short, but it's mighty. In fact, the 220-mile-long Thames could probably claim to be the river that's had the most powerful impact on the world: The British Empire was explored and claimed by ships that sailed from it. In 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh set off for the New World from here. By the 1700s, London was the world's busiest port as commodities were shipped up the Thames from all over the British Empire. Today, it's a slow-flowing river with 44 locks, several royal palaces, innumerable English villages, two famed university towns, and, of course, the one-and-only London.River cruise: See the Thames that flows outside London with a four-night cruise on the 12-passenger African Queen, which passes through quaint English villages like Henley-on-Thames and traverses the Goring Lock. Round-trip from Mapledurham, travel.saga.co.uk. From $886 per person for a four-night cruise.
The Spas of Bohemia
Today I am king--for 40 minutes, anyway, soaking under frescoed ceilings in the very tub that once held England's Edward VII. Gas bubbles dance in the warm spring water, soothing my skin (and, I'm told, lowering my blood pressure) as I doze off, happy as a clam: this regal indulgence, this rococo chamber worthy of a museum, is mine for all of 20 bucks. Welcome to Marienbad (Marianske Lazne in the tongue-twisting local language), one of three-dozen Czech spa towns where a day of Old World pampering, medical treatments, and three hearty meals can cost as little as 1,750 Czech crowns ($50) per person per day in low season (generally October through April)--less than a standard hotel room in most of western Europe (in high season, prices run from $71 to $95, still a decent deal if you don't mind the crowds). Granted, some of these medical treatments might raise your own doctor's eyebrow. Traditionally, the spa experience centered around "taking the waters" (via soaking or drinking), and all sorts of claims have been made for their powers, from treating gout to infertility, even cancer. Think what you will, generations of Europeans have sworn by these methods, and many national health insurance programs even cover spa visits. These are not, after all, New Agey fad-farms, but long-established, traditional European health care institutions, though admittedly, time and tech have expanded the offerings to the likes of magnetotherapy, supposedly relieving pain by creating magnetic fields around the body, or the alarmingly named pneumopuncture, which injects gas into acupuncture points--clearly not for everyone. Not all treatments, though, are so out there, and plenty are bona-fide boons, including massage, physical therapy, and wonderful mineral water baths. Here's how it works: you check into a spa facility and meet with a "balneologist" (doctor of spa medicine), who prescribes a course of treatment based on your afflictions (ideally three weeks or more, but they cater to Americans with one-week programs); this includes baths, therapy sessions, water-drinking regimens, whatever your condition calls for. An individualized diet plan is also forwarded to the kitchen (though, interestingly, in Eastern Europe the "diet" dishes are often soaked in butter). Special or additional treatments (such as my decadent soak in the King's Chamber) are payable on a per-item basis. Alternatively, you may also stay at a non-spa hotel, eat in excellent (and inexpensive) restaurants around town, and visit the spa as an outpatient. Depending on the chemical composition of their springs and muds, different towns focus on different conditions; thus, while Trebon and Bechyne specialize in joints and muscles, Podebrady is for the heart, and Frantiskovy Lazne focuses on gynecology. For the first-timer, though, the best and most versatile introduction to the spa experience centers around two famous West Bohemian towns: Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary in Czech), the largest and most popular of all, and the quieter, more genteel Marienbad. The easiest (albeit most expensive) way to do it is an all-inclusive package--airfare, lodging, treatments, and three meals a day--from the tour-operator arm of CSA, the Czech national airline; these run around $1,499 per person (double occupancy) for seven nights at the posh Hotel Imperial Spa in Karlsbad. You can save big, however, by calling local tour operators, such as Prague International and Helios.Via (see box), or contacting the spa directly and then buying your airfare through a consolidator (roughly $700 from the East Coast in high season). Once you arrive in Prague, a bus ticket to Karlsbad is only $2.65 for an air-conditioned two-hour ride, and the three-hour-plus train to Marienbad costs $3.35. Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) Fizzy Water & Summer Hoopla: Surrounded by steep hills 100 miles west of Prague, this town's picturesque 600-year-old spa district has played host to aristocrats and celebrities from Russia's Czar Peter the Great to Beethoven to Karl Marx. Today it's a merry jumble of nineteenth-century extravagance, its facades shining once more after extensive restoration. Up and down the banks of the Tepla river, Germans, Czechs, and hordes of nouveau riche Russians take their constitutional walks, stopping at the 12 mineral springs to fill their lazensky poharek, a china mug with a built-in drinking straw (to be honest, the hot fizzy water tastes vile). Karlsbad also aims to treat the soul, and so it hosts a variety of concerts, balls, and jazz and film festivals. Summertime, in fact, can seem anything but relaxing, with teeming crowds serenaded by oompah chestnuts like "Roll Out the Barrel" at every turn. Fortunately, you can head for the hills along the many hiking paths on the outskirts, offering pine-fresh air and contemplative quiet. Karlsbad Spas/Hotels: If quiet is important, the best local spa may be the Jadran, an intimate villa built in 1937 on a hill above town. With only 12 rooms, its recently renovated premises sparkle with luxurious furnishings, gorgeous private baths, stereo equipment, TV, fridge, and phone; there is also an in-house doctor and treatment facilities, all at a cost - including full board - of $119 based on double occupancy. The drawbacks: no elevator, and a longish walk uphill from town. Almost as plush, the art nouveau Astoria offers a much better location smack in the center of town. The lobby wows visitors with its marble, brass, and fresh flowers, and many rooms have been upgraded to light wood furniture, lace curtains, new bathrooms, and all the expected amenities; there is also a brand-new sauna and indoor pool adorned with classical tilework and pillars. The all-inclusive cost here ranges from a high of 154 euros per room in season to a low of 112 euros. Strangely, the priciest place in Karlsbad (204 euros to 240 euros per room) is also the ugliest. The Thermal, a 15-story concrete eyesore in the center of the pedestrian-only spa district, has one of those cavernous lobbies so typical of hotels in the former Soviet bloc. Still, it attracts a significant clientele who appreciate its large medical staff, complete range of spa treatments, outdoor pool with naturally hot spring and thermal water, and recently renovated rooms with fabulous balcony views of the town and surrounding hills. For those who prefer a simpler, non-spa hotel, the Jiskra is the best bet: a fabulous townhouse just across from the posh Grand Hotel Pupp and dripping with crystal chandeliers and swirly Belle Epoque moldings. A grand staircase (and elevator) lead up to three suites fit for royalty, along with ten simpler rooms with TV, phone, and shared baths (41 euros per room in low season and 78 euros in high). Karlsbad Cuisine: Restaurant prices in the Czech Republic can still amaze after a decade of capitalism, and Karlsbad is no exception. At the pleasant Bodam Rybi Restaurace, seafood's the specialty, served outdoors under chestnut trees or indoors in a cozy dining room lined with fish tanks. An entree of fried calamari goes for $2.50, and a generous portion of paella with shrimp, mussels, and sepia for $3.25. Game is served, too: roast duck with cabbage and dumplings costs $3, and venison steak with mushrooms, $3.85. Rather more elegant, the Regina Restaurace (in the Regina Hotel) is a grand affair with elaborate ceilings, soaring columns, chandeliers, and . . . clunky Soviet-era furniture. Two prix-fixe menus offer the likes of soup, roast pork with potato dumplings and cabbage, apple strudel, and coffee for $3.35; ... la carte, a fried filet of fish is $1.75 and palacinky (Czech-style crepes) with fruit and cream just 75[cents]. Just off the main drag along a quiet lane of fairytale fin-de-siecle villas stop for lunch or dinner at the excellent Sadova Kavarna Restaurace, a plainish dining room with outdoor tables overlooking an onion-domed Russian orthodox church. Lively music and dancing on weekend nights accompany great values like the trout baked in butter and lemon for $2.50. Sides, like the ubiquitous potato croquettes, run 42[cents], as do various small desserts, and the Prazdroj or Purkmistr beer is 53[cents] a glass. To eat like a true Czech on a budget, though, head for Linie Rychle Obcerstveni. Just west of the Thermal Hotel, it remains a Soviet-style fast-food joint with modern touches like bright display cases. The thing here is gloppy salads heavy on the mayonnaise served with a rohlik (roll); the karlovarsky salat, for example, costs just 42[cents] for a filling 150g (five-ounce) portion of chopped salami, raw onions, and diced pickles in a runny white sauce. It's deeply satisfying in the way that only something utterly bad for you can be; ditto for desserts like the 33[cents] "spa cake," a sort of Napoleon overloaded with frosting. This is truly as Czech as it gets, and a great place for a quick and very cheap meal. Marienbad (Marianske Lazne) A Gracious, Low-Key Alternative: Eighty miles southwest of Prague, Marienbad offers a different kind of spa experience: quieter, more intimate--even genteel. It was, after all, founded in the nineteenth century and specifically designed for strolling, its paths winding amid landscapes that would honor an Impressionist painting. To walk here is to revel in the architectural grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian empire; indeed, one might almost expect to bump into Goethe or Chopin taking a constitutional or listening to the spooky canned melodies of the "Singing Fountain," the focus of the delightful spa district. Expect, in short, nothing of the gloomy atmosphere of the pretentious, old French film Last Year at Marienbad. Marienbad Spas/Hotels: Hvezda means "star," and that's what this luxurious gem is among the local offerings. All rooms are appointed with stylish furniture and all the modern conveniences - save air conditioning, absent all over town. The meals in the plush dining room are top-notch, and a broad range of treatments is available, from hydromassage to gas injections to magnetotherapy; more complex procedures are referred to the nearby Nove Lazne, a grand old outpatient facility (see below). The daily cost, including all meals and treatments, is an amazing $93 per person in high season and $79 in low. For less expensive rates (5040 CZK- 5360 CZK), the Pacific offers clean, recently refurbished quarters that don't look quite as sharp but still do the trick. A more limited range of cures is offered here, with patients going to the Nove Lazne as well. A major highlight of the Pacific, though, is the restaurant (open to the public), a splendid affair in art nouveau plaster and gilt. The much plainer Vltava Hotel offers oddly similar prices (3530 CZK-3910 CZK) and specializes in musculoskeletal problems such as the knees and the neck--all of which will appreciate the beautiful indoor heated pool, whirlpool, and dry sauna. Rooms are clean and perfectly serviceable, with TV, phone, and sometimes a fridge; there is a daily choice of six set meals. If you opt to stay in a regular hotel, however, the Polonia is an excellent choice, right on the main street and a short stroll to the Singing Fountain and the main colonnade (covered walkway housing several springs). While the facade is awash in friezes and caryatids, the interior is rather functional; rooms are bright and cheerful, however, with furniture of recent vintage, most with TV, and telephone. All the baths boast new tilework and fixtures, too, though some rooms share a bath; the price range here is 55 to 73 euros. Whether or not you stay in a spa hotel, sooner or later you will end up at the Nove Lazne, a twin-towered structure offering the widest range of cures in town. Built in 1896, by the following year it welcomed England's Edward VII to the above-mentioned King's Chamber. All the area spas send their patients here for advanced treatment at no extra cost--like the "Maria's gas" wrap, essentially a plastic sleeping bag full of natural CO(sub)2. Otto, an older German from Bremen, walked with a cane, he tells me; but now, after two weeks of gas wraps, no more cane - and his wife is happier, he winks (an alternative to Viagra, the wraps supposedly dilate all the blood vessels). There are other fun treatments like colon irrigations, hydrotherapy, underwater massage, and the like. You may also come with no referral and take only those procedures you wish; that $20 mineral water bath in the King's Chamber costs $10 in a regular tub; an underwater spray massage is $16, and Otto's arousing gas wrap goes for a mere $7. Meals in Marienbad: Even if you have a full-board plan, it would be a crime not to broaden your gastronomic horizons, given local restaurant prices. The Classic Restaurant and Cafe, for example, is classic indeed, with candles, crystal, and an upscale crowd. Meals here range from $1.65 for a vegetarian asparagus with peaches au gratin to a whopping $4.95 for smoked salmon with potato pancakes in a horseradish cream sauce and salad; a glass of Moravian wine is 64[cents]. For dessert, superb, paper-thin palacinky are just 80[cent]. Just up a short ways on Hlavni trida, the main drag, is the aforementioned dining room of the Pacific Hotel, where stucco-frosted ceilings loom over elegant tables. Here, 83[cents] buys an appetizer of sardines in cod liver oil with onions, and the chef's specialty, the "Pacific" sirloin steak with peaches and roquefort cheese, will set you back only $4.75. To eat outdoors, try the Cesky Dvur, serving traditional Czech cuisine in a neoclassical courtyard just off Hlavni. The service is quick and the svickova na smetane (sauerbraten in cream sauce with cranberries and bread dumplings, practically the national dish) is heavenly-- and only $3.60. The same price gets you a hearty beef goulash, also with dumplings; desserts, like (what else?) palacinky, run $1.65. The best deal, though, is the "Czech platter," a generous assortment of roast pork, smoked meats, and duck served with cabbage and dumplings--for all of $6.35. Economize even further at Restaurace Franz Josef, named after the Austro-Hungarian emperor who ruled from 1848 until World War I; a cartoon cutout of the old chap presides over the entrance to this rustic tavern with bench seating and lace curtains. Here, a bowl of cesnecka (garlic soup) is a mere 53[cents], while breaded carp with fries costs $2.25; ditto for the so-called "Tramp" pork steak, served with roasted potatoes and a side. Finally, the pink-and-white Cafe de Paris in the Nove Lazne is a perfect spot to recover from your treatments--as I did following my kingly soak in Eddie's tub. As I savored a yummy wedge of fruit tart (97[cents]) and a cup of strong coffee (67[cents]), a Czech language disco-rap version of "Red River Valley" played on the radio--a perversely fitting comment on the state of this beautiful country, poised between its communist past and its westernized future, and still offering--for now--amazing bargains, spa and otherwise. Sleeps Amid Springs To phone the Czech Republic from the U.S., first dial 011-420. KARLSBAD Sanatorium Astoria Vridelni 23; 17/322-8224, fax 17/322-4368 Thermal Hotel Sanatorium I.P. Pavlova 11; 17/321-1111, fax 17/322-6992 Jadran Spa House Balbinova 4; 17/322-5613, fax 17/322-1684 Hotel Jiskra Marianskolazenska 1; 17/322-6994, fax 17/322-6149 MARIENBAD Hvezda Goethovo namesti 7; 165/631-111, fax 165/631-200 Vltava Anglicka 475; 165/641-111, fax 165/641-200 Pacific Spa Hotel Mirove namesti 84; 165/651-111, fax 165/651-200 Hotel Polonia Hlavni trida 50; 165/622-4512, fax 165/624-785 Nove Lazne Reitenbergerova 53; 165/644-111 Info & Tour Operators The Czech Tourist Authority (212/288-0830; czechcenter.com/) has helpful spa information. For packages, contact: Czech Vacations/CSA Czech Airlines in the U.S., 877/293-4225 Balnea Praha Spa & Travel Service Narodni trida 28, 10000 Prague 1; 011-420-2/2110-5314, fax 011-420-2/2110-5307; email@example.com Helios.Via Dlazdena 5, 11000 Prague 1; 011-420-2/2421-3136, fax 011-420-2/266-140; firstname.lastname@example.org; tours.cz/helios Prague International Travel Agency Senovazne namesti 23, 11282 Prague 1; 011-420-2/2414-2752, fax 011-420-2/2421-1524; email@example.com, pragueinternational.cz/ Feasts Amid Fountains KARLSBAD Rybi Restaurace Bodam T.G. Masaryka 10; 17/322-2473 Regina Restaurace Nuva Louka 3; 17/322-3241 Sadova Kavarna-Restaurace Sadova 51; 17/323-5132 Linie Rychle Obcerstveni Nabrezi Jana Palacha 2 MARIENBAD Classic Restaurant-Cafe Hlavni trida 131; 165/622-807 Restaurace Franz-Josef Hlavni trida 161; 165/5746 Pacific Mirov, namesti 84; 165/651-111 Cesky Dvour Hlavni trida 650; 165/626-273 Cafe de Paris Reitenbergerova 53; 165/644-040.
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