Monday, August 18, 2014

9 Free Summer Activities in Sun Valley and Ketchum

While getting to Idaho may be a pricey proposition for those of us who live east of the Mississippi River, once one gets to the idyllic area surrounding Sun Valley, there's a lot of fun to be had for free. Let's examine nine free things you can do that aren't just a walk in the park.

In Sun Valley...

1. Watch the pros practice at the Sun Valley Ice Rink 

During the summer, Sun Valley hosts an ice show every Saturday night, featuring a regular cast and guest stars like Gracie Gold, Evan Lysacek, and Johnny Weir. The shows can  pricey. But if you come to the ice rink at 12:30 on the day of the show, you'll see the Olympians and the cast alike practice their moves...and you don't have to pay a cent. Watching practice can be almost as fun as taking in a show, as you can see how the pros put their spin on practice sessions.

2. Skating on Film
Get a taste of old school Sun Valley by watching the 1941 classic Sun Valley Serenade. There's a free 4:30 daily showing of the Sonja Henie ice skating movie at the Sun Valley Opera House. The charming 320-seat theater was built in 1937, and it's a classic itself.

3. Something's Fishy
You can take free fly casting clinics in Sun Valley from 5:30 to 6:30 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays. Instructors from Silver Creek Outfitters teach newbies all about the art of fly fishing.

4. Music in Paradise

For 30 years, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony has presented a free concert series during the season. The symphony, which draws musicians from all over the country, is the largest privately-funded, free admission symphony in the country. Concerts are held at the magnificent Sun Valley Pavilion, which offers ample seating and amazing acoustics.Symphony season is held between late July and mid-August, and features everything from chamber music to jazz to the classics. 

In and Around Ketchum...

5. Art for All
Meanwhile, in Ketchum, summer brings a host of cultural activities. In addition to a monthly Friday Night Gallery Walk, the city hosts the Sun Valley Center Arts and Crafts Festival in early August. There's music, too. Ketch'em Alive is a free concert series held on Tuesday night; Town Square Tunes features local musicians every Thursday evening; and Jazz in the Park takes place Sundays from 6 to 8 PM.  All three only take place between June and August, so 'ketchum' while you can.

6. Warm up in Hot Springs
There's a great deal of geothermal activity in this part of the world. As a result, hot springs in the area are plentiful. Closest to Ketchum are Warfield and Frenchman's Bend Hot Springs. While gratis, you are not free to skinny dip (at least officially). 
Rarin' to Go for a Walk

7. Walk a Dog
Doggone crazy? In that case, the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley needs your help...even if you are just visiting. Take a paws to join 'Hikin' Buddies on Wednesdays from 9:30 AM to 1 PM. Walks start at the Adams Gulch Trailhead, just a mile and a half from downtown. Meanwhile, Paws Around Town is another opportunity to meet canines in need of a home. It takes place from 1 to 2:30 PM Saturdays at Ketchum Town Square

8. Do Downward Dog
Free Yoga on the Mountain runs throughout the summer, either at Sun Valley Village or at the base of River Run.


9. Take a Hike
Up a mountain, beside a babbling brook, along the paved Rails-to-Trails path--the options for casual walking or extreme trekking are nearly endless.So go work up a sweat.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Of Ebola, Russian Airspace and the Middle East

Well, that's an appealing headline, no? Nonetheless, if you are game to watch, here's a link to my most recent NewsMax TV segment.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What's Up in SIberia?

Maybe very little, if the Russians have their way. Due to the continuing strife between Ukraine and Russia, the European Union has finally placed numerous sanctions on Russian businesses. One of the sanctions impacted Dobrolot, a new budget airline owned by Aeroflot. The airline just started flying in June, and its key route was a heavily-subsidized route (starting at $29 one-way) between Moscow to Crimea.

The EU, saying the airline was "facilitating the integration of Crimea into Russia" cancelled the leases on the carrier's European-owned Boeing jets and annulled insurance and maintenance contracts. As a result, the airline had to suspend service on August 4.

Now, Russia is pondering retaliation of its own. Should it close airspace over Siberia, European carriers will have to fly thousands of additional miles to get to destinations in Asia. Most nonstops between Europe and Asia save up to four hours and $30,000 by flying over Siberia. Longer routes will mean higher fuel and labor costs, and more strain on the equipment, staff and passengers. According to an article in Forbes, Lufthansa says it could lose 1 billion euro in three months if Siberian airspace is closed.

Both Lufthansa and Air France-KLM send the most planes over Siberia--about 500 a week combined. Interestingly, though, the move could hurt Russian air carrier Aeroflot even more. Currently, Aeroflot collects an overflight fee from all carriers flying in Russian airspace. Last year, it collected $170 million. Given that the airline's profit is around $200 million annually, a vast drop in overflight fees could plunge Aeroflot into the red. Plus, the EU could potentially ban Aeroflot flights to Europe.

Caption: Lake Baikal, Siberia

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nine Things You Don't Know About Idaho

Idaho is one of my favorite states. In fact, when I choose to vacation, I vacation here. I am currently in Ketchum (or as spell check likes to call it, Ketchup), enjoying the fresh mountain air and cool summer temperatures.

I have been traveling throughout the state for the last 10 days with a little tater tot. To track the adventures of #SpudBuddy, follow me on Twitter @dailysuitcase (see image at bottom).

Now, for a bit of Idaho trivia--

1. Sun Valley is considered the first winter destination resort in the United States. It was built in the 1930s by railroad magnate W. Averill Harriman.

2. Sun Valley was the home of the world's first chairlift.  Lifts were installed on Dollar and Proctor Mountains in 1936.

3. The Hokey Pokey was invented in Sun Valley during the 1940s.

Elsewhere in Idaho...

4. Idaho is the only state with two time zones divided north and south. The state divides between Mountain and Pacific Time just north of Riggins.

5. Television was invented in Rigby, Idaho in the 1920s by local science prodigy and farm boy Philo Farnsworth.

6. Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to North America's tallest sand dune, at 470 feet.

Calling All Spuds...

7. Potatoes are not the top agricultural product in Idaho. Milk is.

8. Potatoes are the #1 crop, but are third in the agricultural product list after dairy and cattle.

9. And while we are on the topic, Idaho is the country’s #1 potato producer, serving up 29% of the U.S. total.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Travel to Israel? The TV Segment

For this travel reporter, this week has been hard news, all the time. Yesterday, I covered the breaking story of airlines temporarily pulling out of Israel for NewsMax TV. Please forward to 1:33 of the MidPoint program for my segment.

This link goes straight to the segment:

For more background on the state of Israel and travel, click here

Monday, July 21, 2014

Travel to Israel?

Nothing like going on vacation and worrying about where to find gas masks or emergency bomb shelters. But the latest State Department Travel Warning advises travelers to Israel to arm themselves with this information should they opt to go.

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem
The wording of the warning: The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens consider the deferral of non-essential travel to Israel and the West Bank and reaffirms the longstanding strong warning to U.S. citizens against any travel to the Gaza Strip. (I added the bold).

For those who do choose to brave Israel, the warning recommends avoiding Arab towns such as Nazareth. As for Jerusalem:

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

U.S. citizens should be aware of the possibility of isolated street protests, particularly within the Old City and areas around Salah Ed-Din Street, Damascus Gate, Silwan, and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.  Travelers should exercise caution at religious sites on Fridays and on holy days, including during Ramadan.   
Ramadan ends on July 28.

The warning continues: Because of the security situation, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and its annexes are currently operating at reduced staffing and the Consular Section of the Embassy is providing only emergency consular services.  The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is currently maintaining normal operations, including consular services.

State Department advisories and warnings can be impacted by U.S. relations with the countries in question. Therefore, in order to get the full picture, I always recommend international travelers also check out advisories issued by the British Foreign Office and by the Canadian government as well.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Travel to Russia?

Well, it looks like I won’t be pitching the story of my Trans-Siberian journey through Russia anytime soon. Given the events that have taken place in Ukraine since February, international tourism to Russia has plummeted, as has demand for information about Russian travel.

2013 was a blockbuster year for international tourism to Russia. Rosturizm, the state tourism agency, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying numbers were up nearly four percent, reaching 2.7 million international visitors. Russia was even making headway into the U.S. market, attracting 200,000 Americans (including me) last year. That’s the highest number since 2008.

And it looked like the increases were going to continue, given the impetus provided by the Sochi Olympics. But then, the Ukraine crisis began shortly after the Games ended.  After the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the impact on tourism was apparent. Cruise lines and tour operators started cancelling stops in Russia. Ivan Shirkov, Senior Sales Specialist at Travel All Russia, one of the top international inbound tour operators to Russia, reports bookings in March and April were down 200 percent from 2013. Alexander Maklyarovsky, head of incoming tourism at Moscow-based KMP Group, said he expected overall tourism numbers for the summer to be down by 30 percent. SPB Tours, which organizes visits in St. Petersburg (more than 650 miles from Kiev), reported reservations had fallen almost 50 percent by June, compared to the same period last year.

And now, given the international outrage over the downing of Flight 17, even fewer people are opting to travel to Russia. It’s not really a matter of safety, even though the State Department has posted travel warnings. But those focus mainly on the parts of Russia bordering Ukraine.

Instead, people are opting out for political reasons and are boycotting with their pocketbooks. Of course, fall and winter are not prime times for Russian tourism, so the question may become how all of this will impact travel into 2015. Shirkov says it is too soon to tell if the skies will continue to darken. The answer may depend on the continuing political fallout from the latest tragedy.

Developing Coverage: More political implications; interviews with Russian hoteliers and tour operators