Sunday Travel Scorecard [10.18.09]

Sunday Travel Scorecard [10.18.09]As print newspapers fight to stay alive, travel sections lose pages and steadily increase service journalism while operating under more scrutiny than ever. In support of our paper/e-ink colleagues, here’s the Sunday print travel news that’s fit to post about.

This week, The New York Times explored the road less traveled on two wheels in “Pedal Peepers in Vermont.” Writer Katie Zezima described, in quite luscious detail, a quintessential autumn day in Vermont as seen through the eyes, ears, and nose of a bicyclist. I have been reading a plethora of bike-riding travel pieces recently, but none have captured the right mood or feeling of completely immersing yourself in a landscape without chunky metal doors blocking your view. The writer would seem to agree:

The burning reds, fiery oranges and golden yellows were breathtaking no matter how you looked at them. But the landscape took on a whole new magnitude when you ditched the automobile, put on some layers and went leaf-peeping on two wheels.

In “From India, a Homespun Brand of Hospitality,” writer Amy Lee opted to stay at a homely Bed and Breakfast rather than an overpriced hotel in New Delhi while exploring rooms in India. Proving the theory that you can learn more about a specific culture while traveling through the eyes of a local than a tourist or chain-hotel concierge, Lee points out small, personal touches, like homemade meals and hot tea on a table in your room),that make me never want to stay at a s0-called “regular” hotel again.

Earlier this year, I traveled to Israel for two weeks, soaking in almost every part of the country — well, except Jaffa. I hadn’t thought about trekking back, however, until I read “Old Jaffa Embraces the New,” in which writer Deborah Kolbern explores a city praised for its “relatively peaceful coexistence between its Arab and Jewish populations.” My favorite part of Israel was the open market in Jerusalem, where vendors sold poppy-seed pastries and strawberries that looked as though they were painted perfectly red. But Jaffa, which offers handmade jams and vintage dresses, is now calling my name. The NYT showing refreshingly optimistic, peaceful relations in the Middle East, set in a city with homemade dessert? I’m in.

SCORE: 10/10 CARRY-ONS

Every travel section has jumped on haunted locations like a cat to a mouse since the first day of October, but few writers have actually traveled to these ancient sites to try to debunk them (if only the Ghostbusters wrote travel columns). Though mystery is often more alluring than actual facts, the Washington Post explored the history of a haunt in England. In “Close Encounters in Edinburgh’s Hidden Underworld,” writer Alexandra Pecci walks into the Real Mary King’s Close, where she is frightened but skeptical:

Some people say they’ve felt the little girl’s presence or have even seen or heard her lingering in the close. I paused for a minute and closed my eyes to see if I could feel her, too. But nothing. Part of me was disappointed, but a bigger part was relieved.

Maybe that’s what we all hope to find in a haunted location; the possibility of seeing a ghost or feeling an energy in the air, but in the end, feeling nothing, and telling yourself it is all a hoax.

Following the theme of exploring old, narrow passageways, writer (and TFT staffer) Clay Risen sees a natural, majestic landscape in “A recovering Germany, From a Canal’s-Eye View.” Though he has the option of peering at green farmlands from a hot-air balloon, Risen chooses to canoe his way around Berlin, careful to enjoy the serene landscape through his 16-plus-mile workout.

Robert DiGiacomo’s article, “New York Rocks On, at Museum and Elsewhere,” makes me yearn for (good) punk rock clubs to still exist through his exploration of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, the 80s are long gone, but the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads are more poetic and original than any electronically-produced, genre-confused band dominating today’s airwaves and Pandora channels.

SCORE: 7/10 CARRY-ONS

As if we were beginning to forget, the Boston Globe reminded us, like other travel sections, that yes, Halloween is near, by displaying gloomy, ominous photos of the most haunted buildings in “Haunted haunts around Eastern Mass.” Some appear genuinely frightening, but, ironically, a lot of top universities are on this list, including Harvard and Boston University. Indeed, nothing is more terrifying than a 50-page term paper and bad cafeteria food. More intriguing, in Sudbury, a guest apparently “felt the presence of a woman hop into bed with him one night.” It must be easy to slip out the next morning after a night in bed with a ghost. Boston does have some gems rumored to be occupied by spirits, yet they are far more appealing for their history rather than haunts.

The Globe’s foliage slideshow, however, was less-than-detailed and showed little change from picture to picture in “White Mountains Trail foliage GPS tour.” Help us out, Globe. Some of us live in firey SoCal deserts where the best look at foliage we can get is on our HDTV.

SCORE: 6/10 CARRY-ONS

Score one for S.F. The San Francisco Chronicle snagged veteran travel author Rick Steves to offer a tour through Swedish history in “Stockhom – of Viking history, dazzling present.” Most interesting was the open-air folk museum that Steves described. Skansen has more than 150 homes, shops, and buildings. Folk dancing, too? It seems as though you can truly live like a Swede in a museum, which is how all cultural museums should operate.

But Steves goes further, and I liked it when he delved into other must-see attractions, including the Absolut Icebar, set in an igloo that allows you to drink overpriced vodka out of ice glasses. While reasons to visit Stockholm abound in this piece, it feels like a brisk walk through the most popular new (and old) sites. Just as important, I now have a reason to set my DVR to Steves on PBS. Imagine that: a travel writer actually developing interest in readers who will become his TV audience instead of the other way around? Is this 1983?

SCORE: 6/10 CARRY-ONS.

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