Category Archives: Book

‘Airborne’ Tells Tales from the Cabin

Finnair crew collaborates on inflight anthology

In this country, Airborne is the name of an herbal dietary supplement claiming germ-fighting properties. From Finland comes another Airborne — this one a book by members of Finnair’s cabin crew with proceeds benefiting a Finnish charity. These days, every book title seems to start with a catchy word or phrase followed by “: Lengthy Explanatory Subtitle,” and this is no exception. Its full moniker is Airborne: Tales From A Thousand And One Flights.

The cover looks a bit like Mary Poppins in a uniform, but inside is a collection of unusual and/or humorous true stories features contemporary anecdotes buiilt on decades of flight attendant history and lore. , Airborne was written by what Finnair kindly calls “customer service professionals of the sky.” Independently and on their own spare time, cabin crew members Riitta Kiiveri, Noora Kunttu, Pirkko Saari, Christina Strandberg, Meriitta Ahtikari, Kati Kaivanto, Lene Malmström and Tony Pokkinen have written or collected stories from their colleagues and shaped them into Airborne.

Airborne was also been published in Finnish, of course, as Taivas mikä työpaikka! The profits from the book will be donated to the Finnish Central Association for Mental Health to be used in the prevention of mental health issues among children and adolescents. Admirable cause, to be sure, but I can’t help but think that prevention of mental health flare-ups among passengers wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

I’m not so delusional that I think any American readers and/or travelers will actually be rushing to order this hardcover book from Finland for a hefty €23.90 (almost $31), but the idea is so intriguing that it deserves a post. Now if they would just make the available  for the Kindle or Nook, they might have a bit of an international market.

Chris Elliott’s New How-To Travel Book Free

Christopher Elliott is an award-winning consumer  advocate on behalf of travelers, writing magazine features, a syndicated newspaper column, a website and more. His new eBook series called The Travel Troubleshooter is currently “in beta,” a version that is unformatted and therefore unpretty  But to me, content is king, and each one is chock full of advance to make us all better travelers.

Every book in the series answers common questions about a specific topic, offers real examples of cases he resolved for aggrieved travelers and reveals the names and emails of executive contacts at travel providers. The first three volumes deal with car rentals, the TSA (which is about as fond of as I am) and travel insurance. He plans to add a new book each week, which is mind-boggling.

The Troubleshooter series will be available for purchase this summer, but it is completely free until May 28. He is seeking reader input, so if you download one of the eBooks and send feedback to elliottc@gmail.com, including style and grammar revisions, or contribute significantly to the creation of the series, he promises to send a free copy of the first version of the eBook and also credit you in the book. Or, if  you buy a copy of his recently released book, Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals, you’ll get a free copy of the first version of the eBook. As a bonus, if you buy Scammed on Amazon and write a review, he promises you get not only the series, but you’ll also have access to the updates for a year.

Burgundy & Bordeaux Wine Tours This Fall

Old World wine regions are focus of upcoming fall tours

Courtesy BKWine Photography

With so much attention paid nowadays to the  New World wine regions of California, Oregon, British Columbia and the Southern Hemisphere, it’s easy to forget Old World wines — the European regions where viticulture and wine-making as we know it were developed and refined. BKWine Tours, a specialized tour operator run by Swedes and based near Paris, focuses on what can be called Old World wine regions. This fall, they have scheduled short, intensive trips of just four nights and three very full days to two classic French wine travel destinations, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The Bordeaux tour (October 5-9) takes wine travelers to some of the prestigious chateaux in the world’s most famous wine region. It also takes the wine lover behind the scenes of what they call “the real Bordeaux,” where both the ultra-luxury chateaux and the family owned estates have a place. Part of the focus is on young winemakers who are breathing new energy into this classic region. Each winery visit includes private wine tastings and gastronomic meals served at the chateaux, accompanied by the properties’ own wines.

The Burgundy tour (October 19-23) visits a selection of the top producers in the region, both the big merchants with well-known brands of blended wines and the small, often-family owned wineries that produce on small-production vineyard- and terroir-specific wines. This tour is dedicated to the individual growers and includes extensive tastings of most of the famous appellations in Burgundy, including several Grand Cru wines, the most exclusive of Burgundies. It also includes three gourmet lunches, some as invited guests to the homes of wine producers.

BKWine was founded by Britt and Per Karlsson, well-known wine journalists (she the writer, he the photographer) whose book, The Creation of a Wine, was named the World’s Best Wine Book for Professionals in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2011. Per Karlsson is leading both of these small-group tours — that is, for a maximum of eight people. I think I’m writing a post about them because I wish something on this order were within my budget. The Bordeaux tour is from €1190 per person and the Burgundy tour is from €1075.

BKWine AB, 51 rue du Chevalier de la Barre, F-92130 Issy les Moulineaux, France. The phone number is +33 – 6 80 45 35 70 and Skype to bkwine.

Unusual New Guidebook from National Geographic

Beautiful book — part guidebook, part resource book — but I can’t figure out whom it’s written for

If there is another guidebook and travel resource book like the recently published 100 Countries, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do, I can’t think of it.  The book is a hefty trade paperback, beautifully printed on heavy stock with gorgeous photos, featuring a lot of planning information that seems meticulously researched if not always especially helpful. It’s a National Geographic publication, so I would expect no less of its look and feel, but the choice of content strikes me as arbitrary and perhaps even hollow.

Since I often decide where to go next because of an air fare sale, this for me is an armchair travel guide– the kind of book that I might browse through some evening when I feel the need to transport myself around the world with the turn of a page. On pages 132-139, I’m in Greece, on 140-141 in Guadeloupe, 142-143 in Guatemala and 144-145 in Hong Kong. I don’t expect much enlightenment in two pages. Still, I love the way it looks and feels, but beyond that, I can’t figure out what it is trying to be and which audience it is written for. Much of the information is too basic for the well-traveled and too exotic for new travelers.

The book contains extensive charts like “The Right Trip for Your Interests”  (e.g., Historic Structures? Go to Italy. Marine Life? Go to Antarctica). No surprises there. I really do like the color-coded chart on “The Best Time to Travel in Tropical Climates,” a month-by-month temperature index as well as hurricane and typhoon season information.Maybe I like it because I’ve just returned from Fiji, which alas is not one of the 100 chosen countries. A review copy was waiting for me when I returned, and I immediately looked for the place I had just been. Oh well.

Less useful are the Themed Destination sections. “Traveling with Children” includes only 10 countries, “Adventure at Any Price” lists just  11 outfitters in the entire world, while “Travel With a Conscience” lists a mere four companies committed to sustainable, culturally sensitive travel. Since these are big growth areas, the omission is unfortunate.

The countries are arranged alphabetically from Antarctica, which is not a country, to Zimbabwe. Each country chapter contains several sidebars and boxes . For instance “What to See and Do” lists the predictable highlights — the Great Wall in China, the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, etc..”Traveler’s Notebook” includes main contacts, currency, time difference from GMT, travel time, festivals and other quick facts. The little “When to Go” gives weather patterns at a glance. “Advice” is a short list of bulleted tips on safety issues and other insider tips.  I do like the small maps to orient myself when I browse the chapters.

However, as I writer, I confess to being distressed that every National Georgraphic person from the chairman of the board to the the design intern and every single photograph is credited, but other than the Forward by Rudy Maxa, National Georgraphic Magazine contributing editor, there is no credit to any of the writers — or if there is, I sure couldn’t find it.

100 Countries has 389 pages, including charts, frontmatter and index. National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0758-7; $26.95.

National Parks, Part II

An up-to-the-minute website and a great guidebook series spotlight our parks

Yesterday, I wrote a potpourri post that started with a description and photos from a just completed hike in Rocky Mountain National Park and ended with a plea to participate in National Public Lands Day coming up this Saturday. Here are two invaluable national parks information resources:

National Parks Traveler Website

National Parks Traveler does an excellent job of balancing breaking news, advocacy and visitor information to the country’s 391 National Park Service-administered sites. The two most recent posts, as I write this, involved Teddy Roosevelt, one a report about a kerfuffle raised about the proposed addition of 12,000 acres of ranchland in and near Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota to the National Register of Historic Places and the other visitor information to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a hidden gem in Washington, D.C. I have this site on my blogroll so that I check it often.

Lonely Planet Guidebooks

There are all sorts of guidebook series out there. Many of them are very good, but my favorites are Lonely Planet’s, which relaunched earlier this year with four North American gems: Yosemite, Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks, California; Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming; Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, and Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks in Canada. I wonder whether they are planning Rocky Mountain too.

Features of the Lonely Planet parks guides include:

•New full-color highlights section shows the best of the parks at a glance, with stunning photographs, author tips and a clear map.
•Detailed itineraries help visitors plan their time, whether they’re exploring well-loved sights, traversing back-country terrain or driving around the region.
•More than 40 hikes in every book, which is scratching the surface of what these parks have to offer but is more than most visitors will do in a week. Follow in the footsteps of LP authors on easy hikes, day hikes and backcountry hikes. Topographical hiking maps accompany the tricky routes, and reformatted hiking charts make it easy to compare hikes and select your favorite.
•New chapters. “Kids & Pets” with information for families, such as the best hikes for the little ones, and advice for pet-owners — key since travelers won’t go anywhere without their pooches but except for service dogs, canines are generally prohibited anywhere but parking lots and perhaps campgrounds . “Clothing & Equipment” with essential information for hikers and campers. “History and Environment” give visitors vital background information on the parks’ past and present.
•Opinionated descriptions of campgrounds large and small, modern and primitive–and an easy-to-reference camping chart to compare features and facilities of each. Plus the trustworthy reviews of other accommodations, restaurants and sights in or near the parks that you come to expect of a Lonely Planet guide.
•A range of other activities including cycling trails, driving routes, climbing, swimming, rafting, skiing, hang-gliding and more.
•Sustainable options and green travel ideas throughout. A “Support Your National Park” feature gives information on how to give back to the parks and promotes sustainability and volunteering.

Revised Resource for Disabled Tavelers

Guide to barrier-free travel addresses needs of mobility-impaired travelers

I never thought much about the challenges faced by wheelchair users until my now-grown was an infant. There I was, an agile woman who often had problems navigating a carriage or stroller into some buildings, up steep stairs or places with oddball angles. I wondered then how people in wheelchairs managed to get around, and I quickly realized that they didn’t. “Shut-in” is a word we we heard then but fortunately don’t anymore, because the laws have changed and accessibility is now mandated in the US.

Knock on lots of wood, I remain healthy and mobile, but I have friends and family members who no longer are. I’ve gone to their homes, gone out to dinner, been to museums and shops and so forth, and I am impressed at how much more user-friendly our country has become since the Americans with Disabilities Act. But when I go to other countries, and see foot-high curbs, broken pavement and other impediments to getting around to see the sights, I realize that there are lots of places that people with physical challenges simply can’t travel. These are of concerns for those with mobility issues and also for their families and travel companions.

The newly released third edition of Barrier-Free Travels: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers by Candy Harrington, an authority on the subject, is a godsend when researching how feasible a trip might be. It is a definitive guide to accessible travel including detailed information about the logistics of planning travel by plane, train, bus and ship. She addresses such nitty-gritty details as finding an understanding travel agent, dealing with airport and pier security (a hassle for the able-bodied, let alone a traveler with special needs), traveling with supplemental oxygen and more.

A few years ago on my first cruise, I saw how many fellow passengers had trouble getting around, how helpful the crew was and how suitable cruise ships are for people with such problems. Harrington has found 45 shore-excursion operators on popular cruise itineraries with vans that include wheelchair lifts, so that people don’t need to be stuck on the ship all the time. The new edition also includes recent updates to access laws, new resources and an expanded list of companies that rent accessible vans in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The book is $19.95 from Demos Publishing. It is available at bookstores, from the publisher (800-532-8663) or online.

Tattered Cover to Welcome Arthur and Pauline Frommer

Father-daughter team of budget travel authorities launching book tour in the Denver area this week

The first post-World War II generation of young, independent travelers boarded their cheap-o charter flights equipped with the essentials: passport, student ID, Eurailpass and Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day. That iconic how-to travel book not only inspired young people to travel then, but to keep on traveling as they got older. It also spawned an empire. Arthur Frommer begat books (Frommers Travel Guides and other series), a magazine (Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel), a website, a radio gig (Arthur Frommer’sTravel Minute” on New York’s WOR and podcast), a blog and a daughter, Pauline, who has followed in her dad’s world-roaming, publishing footsteps.

Father and daughter are launching a book tour for Ask Arthur Frommer — And Travel Cheaper, Better, Smarter at the Tattered Cover on Colfax on at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 8. They are offering a related mini-seminar, “Making Travel Work in Tough Economic Times.” Admission is free, and all Frommer’s Guides will be 20 sold at off during this event — and you can probably get them to sign the books too. The store is at 2526 East Colfax Avenue (at Elizabeth Street, directly across the street from East High School and the City Park Esplanade), Denver; 303-322-7727.

The following day, May 9, the Frommers will speak at the College Hill branch of the Westminster Public Library from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The library is at 3705 West 112th Street, Westminster. The event is also free, but the library would appreciate a call to register: 303-404-5104. If you want to buy a book there, it’s cash or check only. Refreshments for the Westminster event will be provided by Cruise Holidays at the Ranch.

Arthur will continue the book tour at the Book Passage (51 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera, near San Francisco) at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, May 11; Distant Lands (56 South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena), at 7:30 p.m. on Monday May 13; and at the Borders bookstore in Century City (10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles) at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 14.

Thoughts About Travel Safety

Well-traveled American septuagenarian traveled to Iraq without incident

When I was heading for Egypt a few months ago, a number of people asked whether I was “afraid” or “nervous” about visiting the Middle East. My response was, “No.” After I returned, people were happy that I had a “safe” trip. Several weeks later, when an explosion in Cairo rocked a popular tourist area, the questions and expressions of relief that my trip was uneventful continued. Click here for my post after I heard about the blast.

I would still return to Egypt in a heartbeat, and I am encouraged when other people aren’t scared into staying home. Therefore, I was cheered to read “Travelers, Your Tour Bus for Basra is Boarding” in today’s New York Times. Reporter Campbell Robertson wrote about 79-year-old Mary Rawlins Gilbert from Menlo Park California, who joined a 17-day group tour of Iraq by “mostly middle-aged and older, that has the honor of being on the first officially sanctioned tour of Westerners in Iraq since 2003 (outside of the much safer enclave of Kurdistan). The guide is Geoff Hann, 70, the owner of Hinterland Travel, a ‘specialist adventure travel company’ based in England.” Hann is also the co-author of a guidebook called Iraq Then and Now and is presumably very knowledgeable and realistic about travel to this country. (Ignore that “Click to Look Inside,” which came with the upload from amazon.com. You’ll have to find the book there to preview it online.)

Robertson’s report continued, “The trip has not been nearly as perilous as most expected. On Friday night — six years after the American invasion began — a white-haired British man and woman bought big bottles of cold Heineken in central Baghdad, walking home in the dark. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which helped arrange the tour, had provided armed guards for the trip, but Mr. Hann said they were too restrictive. So the group had driven around, in a minibus, with little or no security.”

It seems as if Iraq might be taking a page from Egypt’s tourism playbook by linking tourism and antiquities under one jurisdiction. Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police also guard the ancient sites and assigned an armed security officer to accompany every tourist bus. At many destinations, they were joined by a uniformed local police officer or two (right), and plainclothes security personnel seem to be everywhere too. I don’t know whether this show of force is meant as reassurance to nervous travelers, as a deterrent or both, but I never felt a pang about being there.

Meanwhile, US and European shopping malls, convenience stores and even schools and universities have been the sites of all too many random, murderous rampages. Drug cartel violence has hit Mexican border towns hard, but Mexicans and not visitors have suffered, and the problems have not spread to popular tourist destinations or states to the south. Yet many people tend to be more fearful of violence in other countries, especially in the Middle East and now Mexico, than of our own shores.

"Lifetime Trips" Reads Like a Tour Brochure Anthology

Travel anthology is a surprising yawner

I love to take anthologies on my own travels. If I put a book down and don’t pick it up again for six months, I haven’t lost my place. Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Travel Writing of Fill-in-the-Year and its companion series, the now-suspended Best American Food Writing…., are my favorites. Travelers’ Tales anthologies, each of which follows single destination or subject as seen by many writers, are a close runnerup. These collections are filled with gorgeous prose by some of the best writers in the land who make their topics spring from the pages.

Therefore, I was looking forward to Once in a Lifetime Trips, subtitled “The World’s 50 Most Adventurous, Luxurious, and Memorable Travel Experiences.” The author, Chris Santella, certainly comes with impressive credentials. His byline has appeared in top publications (including The New Yorker for which he wrote a “Talk of the Town” piece back in 1995). His numerous books include Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die (and also …to Play Golf, …to Dive and … to Sail Before You Die) and spinoffs from several of them.

My hopes for a great travel read were dashed when I actually plowed through the review copy. Santella’s writing is curiously devoid of passion or insight. In fact, the book reads like a compendium of 50 tour brochures. The opening sentences to many of these adventures are real snoozers. But he does know how to craft a run-on sentence.

I wouldn’t travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to fly a fighter jet based on the lead for that chapter: “There are no exact figures that speak to the increase in the number of U.S. Air Force and Navy recruits after the 1986 release of the Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun, through the military acknowledges that there was a significant bump and even staffed recruiting booths in select theaters where the picture was showing.” Yawn.

Nor would I feel motivated to spend $20 million, if I had $20 million, to visit the International Space Station based on this book. Santella starts his description this remarkable adventure with, “In 2001, American multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the first civilian to travel in orbital flight, thanks to the Russian Federal Space Agency and a U.S. Company called Space Adventures, which has a partnership to purchase a seat on the Soyuz spacecraft and a ten-day spot on the International Space Station (ISS) every six months.” Yawn.

The occasional lead sentence reads like a term paper rather than a tour brochure. Consider, “While the number of Bengal tigers is dwindling worldwide, populations in north-central Nepal are stable.” Yawn.

Have I bored you enough? The press release accompanying the review copy boasts that the “vacations…are so unusual that you can’t just search for them on the web or find them in travel magazines,” and that the author’s “detective work” has unearthed them for us. In truth, most of the them on the web (no surprise), and Santella’s own “If You Go” appendix lists outfitters, their phone numbers and/or websites. However, unless the list was fact-checked between the printing of the review copy and the May 12 publication date, there are errors. For example, the review copy gives Abercrombie & Kent Space Travel for the Capetown fighter jet flight, when in fact, A&K handles reservations the Soyuz. If you want to fly a jet in South Africa, contact Incredible Adventures. The hardcover book will cost $24.95. Save your money — unless you’re in need of a good sleep.

Europe is Subject New Lonely Planet Book

Photo-heavy, information-light coffee table book showcases 52 countries

Lonely Planet guidebooks are often thick and always comprehensive softcover books chockful of practical where-to, how-to, what-to information for travelers, particularly budget travelers. A few maps, illustrations and black-and-white photographs were scattered among the text pages, with a four-color photo insert or two to tart the layout up a bit. The books, subtitled “Travel Survival Kit,” have become nothing less than bibles for travelers who rely on them for an incredible amount of in-depth information on countries around the globe. There’s even a Lonely Planet guide to the non-country of Antarctica, the last, loneliest continent on the planet where visitation is official and scientific, cruise ship icebreaker or of a serious expedition nature, and is totally seasonal.

As noted here, BBC bought Lonely Planet a little over a year ago, and the international broadcasting and media giant lost no time in expanding the Lonely Planet brand into previously unimaginable realms. One of these is a series of hardcover coffee table books that would seem to be perfect adjuncts to a television travel series. The newest is The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent. It profiles 52 European countries, touching briefly on such topics as landscape, people, the urban scene, cuisine, history and festivals. Enticing four-color photographs grace every page. A bit of the original Lonely Planet spirit survives in the sidebar listing the “essential experiences” for each country — the kind of insider tidbit that Lonely Planet fans treasure.
The book also includes four themed essays (“Can They Do That In Public – Europe’s Outrageous Landmarks,” “Europe’s Unrecognized Nations,” “The New Europe” and “Revolutionary Ideas: Six That Changed History”), half-a-dozen suggested itineraries called “Great Journeys” and an random timeline of key events in European history and some interesting trivia. Who knew that Armenia was the first European country to adopt Christianity (301 A.D.) or that tiny Liechtenstein is the world’s largest exporter of dentures?

Like 1,000 Places to See Before You Die (but bigger in format and with great pictures), The Europe Book invites travelers to tick off which countries they have visited. I have been to fewer than half. That surprised me. It wouldn’t have, if I had actually never thought about how many there are now. Of course, now that I am thinking about it, the fragmentation of Europe has greaty increased the number of countries in Europe. The break-up of the Soviet Union, the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia and the splitting of the former Czechoslovakia now mean there are 18 countries where once there were three, a lopsided balance despite the reunification of two Germanys into one. Of the 52, more of two (Russia and Turkey) is in Asia and not in Europe at all, and one (Iceland) is out in the North Atlantic.

The book, subtitled “A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent,” must have been a was a geographic and organizational challenge. The editors decided to segment into six regional sections. Most countries get four pages. Some of the biggies (such as England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia ) are allotted six, while smaller city-states and principalities (Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Vatican City) are covered in two pages.

I have visited nearly all the countries in the sections titled “Western Mediterranean,”Central Europe” and “British Isles & the Low Countries.” I find it a bit odd to lump the four British Isles countries and three Benelux countries together in one section, because all they have in common is the North Sea — except that Ireland doesn’t touch it at all, while Germany, Denmark and Norway, which do have North Sea coastlines, are in other chapters. I’ve been to a few in the “Eastern Mediterranean & the Balkans” (IMO another oddball combo), none in the “Black Sea & Caucasus” and and only two of nine in “Scandinavia & Baltic Europe” — plus Iceland’s Keflavik Airport, but airports don’t count. This book tells me that I have many more European nations to check off on my life list, and the gorgeous photographs illustrated why I should visit them.

Thirty-seven writers, mostly well-traveled and credentialed Lonely Planet authors, and numerous photographers contributed to The Europe Book ($40). It is the fourth in a series that also includes The Travel Book ($50), The Africa Book ($40) and The Asia Book ($40). The original LP guidebooks are for people who are planning a trip or are traveling, while this new series is for people who have traveled and want to tap into specific, I’ve-been-there memories and the general flavor of European countries to remind us all of the continents variety and beauty.