Destination: Scotland

No Heart-Shaped Jacuzzis for Couples at the Frog Hotel

No Heart-Shaped Jacuzzis for Couples at the Frog Hotel Photo by chika via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by chika via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Because even amphibians need a place to get away from it all. The Frog Hotel in Edinburgh is more like the Bates hotel in “Psycho” than some smooth-lovin’ honeymoon inn soundtracked by Barry White, said Robert Henderson, Scottish coordinator for the Community Service Volunteers’ Action Earth campaign. But dark, dirt-scented ambience, complete with a compost cafe full of bugs and and a tiny ramp leading to a sleeping area, is just what gets frogs in the mood to schmooze.

Henderson’s group is encouraging people to put Frog Hotels in their gardens and yards in the hopes of preserving biodiversity in urban areas. It could work out really well for the frogs unless one of the hotels ends up next to a chef fond of cuisses de grenouille.



For Sale: Three Airports in the U.K.

For Sale: Three Airports in the U.K. Photo by The Wolf, via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by The Wolf, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Want to buy a British airport?

Last week the United Kingdom’s Competition Commission ruled that BAA—the company that owns seven airports in the U.K.—is required to sell London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports and one of two airports in Scotland.

This, the Economist reports, could perhaps improve conditions at Heathrow, which sees 67 million people a year. Speaking of that congested airport, the Economist writes: “Ideally, an expanded Gatwick or, to a lesser extent, Stansted could relieve the pressure. But crowded Heathrow generates plenty of profit and Gatwick and Stansted are also owned by BAA, so reducing congestion is not the firm’s top priority. Splitting ownership of the airports should encourage competition between them.” (Read the Commission’s full report via their website.)

Meanwhile, in reaction to the news, the Times of London offers 10 ways to improve airports, and also has put together a video that shows unhappy conditions at different airports in the world, including a lonely bag left out in the rain in Madrid, nasty weather at Chicago O’Hare, and yes, the “Airport Auntie.”

From ‘CSI’ to ‘Castle’: Traveling the World, One Crime Show at a Time

From ‘CSI’ to ‘Castle’: Traveling the World, One Crime Show at a Time Photo by aturkus via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by aturkus via Flickr (Creative Commons)

We’ve written before about crime novels being a prime source for vivid place-based writing. But how about traveling vicariously through the now-ubiquitous crime show? I’d argue that television travel can be just as effective and enjoyable.

Of course, a forty-four minute episode doesn’t allow for the same richness and depth of detail as you’d find in a book, but you can pack a lot of local color—both sights and sounds—into even the briefest street scene. Think of the all-powerful CSI franchise: from the juicy opening shots of the Las Vegas strip or the Manhattan skyline—sorry Miami, I just can’t handle Horatio—to the plot lines often derived from existing local traditions, quirks or trends (think the original CSI’s frequent tributes to Vegas’ wild mob-ruled past), each of the shows is deeply rooted in its host city. And while the main story lines are certainly glitzed up and sensationalized (not to mention acted out by improbably attractive law enforcement officers), you can still pick up a lot of legit local detail from them: I first heard of narcocorridos in a CSI episode about the Mexican community in Las Vegas, and saw handball played for the first time in an episode of CSI: NY—now, walking around Queens during my stay here, I see the game being played daily.

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This Just In: Britain Doesn’t Have to be Expensive

Durham Cathedral Photo by Neil T via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo of Durham Cathedral by Neil T via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Sure, London can be one of the world’s most expensive cities, and the pound has offered a punishing exchange rate with most other currencies over the past few years. But, having done the “starving student” thing there in my grad school days, I’ve always believed that the U.K. remains a prime destination for travelers on a budget. For every pricey West End stage production there’s a free, world-class museum, and for every swank celebrity-helmed restaurant there’s a tasty meal in a cozy pub. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof: 10 free cultural gems, courtesy of the Guardian, and, from the Independent, the country’s 50 best cheap eats. Both are good lists—the Guardian’s in particular gets bonus points for avoiding the best-known London freebies, like the Tate Modern, in favor of more obscure (and more geographically diverse) cultural institutions.

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2008 Travel Movie Awards

2008 Travel Movie Awards Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

The Oscars are looming, and in keeping with the season I’m thrilled to announce my second annual Travel Movie Awards. As I noted last year, these picks rate high on the arbitrary scale and are not intended to be comprehensive: this is just a collection of movies (and movie moments) from the past year that got me thinking about travel, and about places new and familiar.

Most Adorable/Unusual Tale of Indie Love in New York
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
There is never any shortage of romantic comedies set in the Big Apple, but most directors opt to focus on the entanglements of young professionals (bewildered new-to-the-city female journalists, more often than not), and to set the action in or near Central Park. “Nick and Norah,” in contrast, follows a pair of suburban, straight-edge teenagers through the live music venues of lower Manhattan—and captures my heart in the process.

Slate’s Dana Stevens said it better than I can: “Some people really were made for each other ... and New York does look beautiful by night. You got a problem with that?”

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Morning Links: Australia’s Great Ocean Road, LEGO N.Y. and More

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Filmed Here: ‘When Harry Met Sally…’

Movie tourism: to some, it may be an embarrassing, empty and needy exercise. But to me, it’s at worst a harmless detour from more weighty travel fare, and—in a best-case scenario—can even be a surprisingly illuminating way of looking at the world. By chasing the spots where ghosts of film crews past still linger, you can find yourself stumbling on unexpected treasures, or seeing well-worn landmarks in a new light.

I’ve dabbled in the practice before, but this year I’ve decided to get serious. During my present stay in New York City, and beyond, I plan on seeking out some major movie-making landmarks, and (naturally) sharing my findings here.

And where better to open an occasional series on movie tourism hot spots than Manhattan’s Katz’s Deli, of When Harry Met Sally fame?

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Promo Videos Gone Wrong: ‘Telly Savalas Looks at Aberdeen’

There’s something inherently funny about most promotional tourism videos. Maybe it’s the inevitable score swelling dramatically, or the cheesy tag lines, but it’s rare to find one that doesn’t make me giggle and roll my eyes. Still, there are some that are more memorable—and more eye-roll-worthy—than others. I’d like to honor those extra-special specimens here, in an occasional series.

First up, “Telly Savalas Looks at Aberdeen”: A quota quickie, narrated by the “Kojak” star, that aired ahead of the main feature in movie theaters in the 1980s. Between the reference to “black gold” (the first time I’ve heard the term since the Beverly Hillbillies remake) and Telly’s declaration that he was “captivated by everything” he saw—while the camera panned across a parking lot—I was sold. Take a “look-see” (to use Telly’s word) after the jump.

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Margaret Atwood: Author, Birder, Cruiser

Turns out that Margaret Atwood—the acclaimed author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Alias Grace” and “The Blind Assassin,” among others—is also a serious nature-lover. Atwood will be cruising the Scottish isles this spring as a guest lecturer on board the M/V Andrea; this press release notes that she is a “keen birder” and the current co-president of the Rare Bird Club. Who knew?

Morning Links: Road Tripping ‘Amexica,’ Titty Ho and More

Morning Links: Road Tripping ‘Amexica,’ Titty Ho and More Photo by Ian Muttoo via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo of Toronto by Ian Muttoo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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Scottish Hotel Puts Robert Burns’ Portrait on its Toilets

His poem The Selkirk Grace also earned an honored spot on the lids. One of the owners of the hotel, the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright, says he did it in tribute to Rabbie—the poet stayed in the hotel—and to “make customers smile.” Another point, but not one mentioned by the owners: It’s fine bathroom reading material. 

Robert Burns Would Have Scoffed at Vegetarian Haggis

But I love it. I was in Scotland last week, eating the herbivore version of Scotland’s national dish as much as possible. It’s not that I’m afraid of the real haggis —an agitative mix of sheep liver, heart, lungs and other internal organs blended with meat, oats, barley and spices and cooked inside a sheep stomach. It’s just that “fake haggis” tastes better and seemed far easier to find. It may be a sign of the health-food times in Scotland, great purveyor of heart-attack cuisine. But a furious Robert Burns is surely scoffing in his grave.

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Seven Travel Rules From a Brooding Teenager

rock, scotland Photo by rightee, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The American Adolescent Male can learn a lot about travel during a trip to see Scotland and its piles of rocks. Doug Mack breaks it down.

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The World Hum Travel Zeitgeist: From the Fringe of Edinburgh

The Scottish capital made a move toward the top of travelers’ minds this week—the famed Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival begin soon—along with China, the Sierra Nevada and some purveyors of hotel porn. Here’s the Zeitgeist. 

Most Viewed Travel Story
Telegraph UK (current)
Edinburgh Travel Guide

Most E-Mailed Travel Story
New York Times (current)
Not the Hamptons. Yet.
* 36 Hours in Edinburgh also makes the most e-mailed list, currently at No. 3.

Most Viewed Travel Story
Los Angeles Times (current)
Got a Free Weekend? Escape to the Sierra Nevada

Most Read Feature
World Hum (posted this week)
Ask Rolf: I’m in my Mid-40s. Am I Too Old to Stay in Hostels?
* It’s all about spirit, says Rolf.

Most Read Travel Story
USA Today (current)
Marriott Blasted for Hotel Porn
* Morality in Media is making a stir, and Kitty Bean Yancey’s Hotel Hotsheet blog has a raucous discussion going on. 

Most Read Weblog Post
World Hum (posted this week)
‘Into the Wild’: Sean Penn Adapts Jon Krakauer’s Book for the Big Screen

Most Popular Travel Story
Netscape (this week)
Beautiful Chinese Travel and Vacation

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Is Your Kilt Up to Code?

Photo by hans s via Flickr (Creative Commons).

When I first heard about a new law related to kilts, I naturally assumed it had something to do with the hordes of kilt-wearing, buttocks-baring Scots now invading Poland. But it turns out the new law has nothing to do with protecting the poor, terrorized Polish men and women who have suffered the indignity of witnessing one too many bare Scottish buttocks. In fact, the law has everything to do with protecting the poor, terrorized, protected species—otters and badgers, to name just two—whose fur has traditionally been used to make sporrans, the little purses often worn with kilts. Kilt wearers, it seems, may now have to get a license for their sporrans. Well that’s great for the otters and badgers. But what about the good people of Poland? Who’s protecting them?