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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Laura Talks New International Flights on Let's Talk Live

If you can manage to ignore what seems to be a big clump of bed head on the side of my noggin, I think you will find the mane (sic) points of this segment quite informative. For more details on the discussion, see this blog post.

Monday, April 16, 2012

9 Things to Know Before Visiting Boulder

Boulder rocks. It's the home of the University of Colorado, Celestial Seasonings Tea, and many a six-pack (some micro-brewed; others imprinted on the abs of the burg's abundant uber-athletes). But if you dig beneath the surface, there's plenty more on tap in this idyllic small city....at least 9 things, not to be exact.    

1. Boulder is ranked as the happiest and healthiest city in the United States by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. And why not? It's among Bicycling's top three places for pedaling. National Geographic Traveler says it's one of the country's top ten best places to spend the winter. Portfolio calls it "America's Brainiest City" and several pubs rank Boulder a top town for beer, for wine, for foodies, and for art snobs. 

2. On the other hand, GQ calls out Boulder for being among the country's worst-dressed cities. However, in the diss is a compliment. For in its fashion police citation, GQ does add that, due to its fine fitness fettle, this is a place where the worst-dressed look best.....naked.

3. No, I'm not going to go all naked spa on you now. Instead, I will follow up on the worst-dressed riff by noting that the Crocs company started here. And Boulder is currently the gator-way to the world's largest Crocs collection. You can buy Crocs sandals, Crocs sneakers, Crocs God-awful gardening clogs, or Crocs accessories (like this hat, marked for ages 2 to 4) at the Crocs store on the Pearl Street Mall. 

4. Aside from the blot which is Crocs, the Pearl Street Mall is a gem. Please note: This is not a shopping mall per se, although you certainly can shop here for anything from apparel to Zuni fetishes. Dubbed Boulder's Living Room, Pearl Street is a four-block pedestrian way that is home to more than 100 shops, restaurants and art galleries. Most are locally-owned. It's the perfect place to people-watch or take in a street performance. 

5. Pearl Street is an ace place to scout out local characters, but it's not the only place you'll find the wild cards. Head over to the Chatauqua National Historic Landmark and hunt down Mountain Man Jake over at the Visitors Center. Dude is actually an ordained rabbi who sports a (Jewish) star on his shawl and who wears, under his ten-gallon hat, a pint-sized yarmulke. MMJ will regale you with tales of the Old West, and, if you are interested, of the Wild West's wandering Jews. Talk about a Rocky Mountain Chai (as in the Hebrew character, not the tea).
Obviously, though, there's more to Boulder's unorthodox cast of characters than wayward Jews. Track down Zip Code Man, who wanders around downtown dispensing pearls of wisdom regarding your favorite five-digit number. Banjo Billy's bus tour provides the inside skinny on the town's scandalous denizens. And fans of Salvador Dali's facial hair will appreciate the upper lip follicles of one Phillippe Antoine, the moustachioed manager of Jill's at the St. Julien

6. Bars "R" Us.  One of the first gluten-free energy bars, the LARA Bar (now owned by General Mills) was invented in Boulder. Currently, there are at least three GF bars being formulated in Boulder by three busy bees. The three B's of Boulder are Beryl, Breeze and Barr, developers of Bobo Bars, Breeze Bars and TwoDegrees bars, respectively. That's right-- a woman named Barr makes bars. Coincidentally, I met Barr Hogen at the bar at The Kitchen, where she regaled me with stories of her time at Bard (no kidding).

7. Whether you are gluten-free, or vegan, or lactose-intolerant, Boulder's hundreds of restaurants will thrill. Almost every Italian cafe offers gluten-free pasta; vegetarians (and non-vegetarians) will love the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, along with scores of other Asian eateries; and breakfast eaters with just about any type of dietary restriction will be happy as a pancake at Snooze.

8. Sure, you can climb rocks or go mountain-biking here. But for the more sedate....or rather, for the more cerebral....get a science lesson at one of Boulder's three national labs. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) studies air and auroras and other natural wonders of the atmosphere. Its headquarters is an architectural wonder, designed by one I.M. Pei. Tours are free and start at noon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) focuses on the ocean (naturally), the atmosphere, and the weather. In fact, the National Weather Service is under its domain. During a visit to NOAA's headquarters  in Boulder (open to the public on Tuesdays at 1:00 PM), you'll see the Space Weather Prediction Center, a National Weather Service Forecast Office, and the Science on a Sphere room.The last employs the latest technology to project planetary data (including storms, tsunamis, and climate change maps) onto a six-foot-in-diameter globe. Very cool.

Finally, meet the physicists at NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. What's that, you ask? Well, it's complicated and you'll just have to take a tour (Tuesdays at 10 AM or Thursdays at 1 PM) to get a grasp of it. While at NIST, you'll learn about...and see...atomic clocks, along with all sorts of other precision measurement tools. And you'll get to test out the physics phrases you learned from The Big Bang Theory on NIST brainiacs. By the by, whenever you take a tour of a government facility, it's guaranteed you'll need your photo ID. 

9. The Boulder County Farmers Market is one of the best around. From April through October, you can find farmers, chefs and earthy artisans hanging out near Boulder's Central Park on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Eat, drink and be merry. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Heart Travel: The Video Edition

Greetings, Young Lovers.
Here is my Valentine's Day segment which aired on NewsChannel 8 in Washington, D.C. Enjoy and XOXO.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

9 Things to Know Before Visiting Jerusalem

With so much to see and do in Jerusalem, one can easily be overcome. To make the most of your visit to the Holy City, follow my travel bible.

1. Plan to spend several days in Jerusalem. On Day One, wander without a map and without an agenda. It is only by navigating the maze that is the Old City that you will learn how to get around.

2. If you want to access the Temple Mount, and are not a Muslim, visiting times vary (but are usually restricted to three hours in the morning and one in the afternoon). The site is closed to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays. Non-Muslims are not allowed in the Dome of the Rock (see photo) nor the Al Aqsa Mosque. The main security entrance to the Western Wall is also the main entry point for non-Muslim Temple Mount visitors. The line for the Temple Mount is on the far right-hand side of the sidewalk. As the line moves slowly, get there at least 30 minutes early.

3. The only time to see the interior of the 12th-century Church of St. James in the Armenian Quarter is at 3 PM daily, when religious services are held.

4. Try to time your visit to Jerusalem so that you are there at the start of Shabbat. The Jewish Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday night. And that's when the Western Wall is transformed. Thousands of worshipers come to celebrate, commune, and pray. Do note, if you do come to the Western Wall area on the Sabbath (between sundown Friday night and sundown Saturday night), you are not allowed to take photographs.

5. If you can’t visit during Shabbat, go for a Monday or a Thursday. Those are the days reserved for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the Western Wall. So again, you have a hub of religious activity and fervor.

6. Go up ‘oer the ramparts of the Old City. Built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the XVIth Century, the ramparts built atop the city walls circumnavigate the city. However, you can't circumnavigate the city in one shot, as access to the ramparts by the Temple Mount is closed. As a result, there are two possible routes for a Ramparts Walk: The northern route, from Jaffa Gate to the Lions Gate or the southern route, which begins at the Tower of David and ends at the Dung Gate.

7. Go down below and explore the tunnels under the Western Wall Plaza. A 90-minute tunnel tour reveals hidden layers of history, including large blocks of the Western Wall. Advance reservations are required, but they can be made the same day.

8. There are several hostels that were originally designed to lodge pilgrims to the Holy City. Today, whether you are a religious pilgrim or merely a curious one, you can stay for a song at places like the Lutheran Guesthouse; the Austrian Hospice (complete with a café serving Viennese treats); and the low-budget Armenian Hostel (located smack dab on the Via Dolorosa). Or choose from two dozen other Christian guesthouses.

9. Like any crowded city, if you look like a tourist, you will be a target for hawkers and potential “lovers” (particularly if you are a Western female). I find that walking purposely, dressing modestly, and using abrupt, dismissive but polite no thank yous in the native language fend off most unwanted advances.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Heart Travel

For those of you who watched my Travel Love Guru segments on television this week, here are links and information for the getaways and gizmos mentioned.

Valentine's Day/February Romantic Getaways in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay

The Four Seasons Baltimore

Colonial Williamsburg Romance Getaways and Historic Homes

The Goodstone Inn

Gizmos and Gadgets

Instead of paying inflated prices for a bottle of wine during your Valentine's Day getaway, BYOB and inflate a Vinnibag. Its compressed air chambers will keep packed bottles intact and packed clothing dry. $28

If you are rolling in a carry-on, you can't get more stylish than this bag from the performance-driven Tumi Ducati Evoluzione collection. $545 at www.tumi.com or Tumi stores.

Looking for a little his and hers action this Valentine's Day? What about matching high-end Royce Leather travel accessory bags? Made with fine grain Nappa leather, both versions have a waterproof lining and separate zipped compartments for liquids. His comes in black and tan ($115) and Hers comes in pearl pink, blue, green, and black ($95). Look for them on Amazon or at Brookstone stores.

A less expensive his and hers option is this red High Sierra Pack-N-Go Duffel . The duffel doubles as a backpack, and its carrying case transforms into a toiletry pouch. It's available at luggage stores and many major retailers, including Macy’s. $25-30

These little lunch carriers by KoKo will drive any girl cuckoo or to coo-coo. Adorable exteriors are teamed with insulated linings to keep hot things warm and cold things cool. And what else is cool--each bag comes with its own matching cutlery set. $20 For store information, go to www.cosmoda.com. In Washington, DC, Koko products can be found at Frager’s Hardware (Capitol Hill), Home Rule Inc (14th Street, NW), and Johnson’s Florist and Garden Center (Upper NW).

Finally, for something cozy and soft, the SeV Chloe Hoodie, lined in hot pink, will warm any woman's heart. Features include plush fleece cuffs with thumbholes and a dozen no-bulge pockets (with one especially designed for lipstick and another for an iPad). It's available at www.scottevest.com for $90.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Crazy Travel: Are You a Road-Tripping Deviant?

As I begin my exploration into mental health and travel, there are so many paths from which to choose. As I mentioned in a previous post, place-related ailments, such as Jerusalem Syndrome and Paris Syndrome, fascinate me for some crazy reason. But given that the majority of us are unlikely to fall prone to such maladies*, perhaps we best embark on the journey elsewhere.

Let's start, instead, with a quote I discovered while reading boatloads of backgrounders about Jerusalem Syndrome and related psychological disorders. The research comes courtesy of the Department of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

But, if I may, a slight digression--when reading the faculty roster, I was thrilled to note that said list includes one Dr. Yaniv Belhassen, whose research interests include “Deviant Behavior and Drug Usage in Tourism” and “Ideological Manifestation and Consumption in Tourism”. Holla…or should I say “Challah”? Have I found the Holy Grail or what?

Back to our tale, my little teacups. After finding my U. of Essex grad school beanie, I donned it before ingesting Dr. Belhassen’s Cannibis Usage in Tourism: A Sociological Perspective and his Drugs and Risk Taking in Tourism (and one more digression before continuing: I would like to note truthfully that I may be the only person who didn’t inhale. Really…just ask my college boyfriend if you can track him down).

Okay, full disclosure out of the way, let’s go back to that aforementioned yet unmentioned-to-date quote mentioned at the beginning of paragraph two (lesser minds may need to get high to understand that sentence). Cannibis Usage cites a sweet guy named Hirschi, who says “every one of us is attracted to what is considered deviant behavior. However, the fear from social sanctions deters us from acting upon such temptations.” EXCEPT…as one Dr. Bellis writes, “individuals abroad are often free from the social constraints of work and family….” Therefore, Dr. Belhaussen and Cannibis co-authors Carla Almeida Santos and Natan Uriely conclude, “The notion that while on vacation individuals feel that they are free from norms that govern their daily life is quite familiar..."

Next up in Cannibis is a heady dude named Shields, who defines travel as a “liminal zone” --"an area where ‘social conventions…are relaxed under the exigencies of travel and of relative anonymity and freedom from community scrutiny’.” In non-academic terms, the straight dope is that we are all prone to going a bit crazy when traveling.

I myself am certainly not immune to travel-induced crazy (see right). However, I will plead the Fifth in terms of the specifics of my own deviant behaviors while on the road. After all, my journalistic integrity and objectivity must not be questioned. However, I should very much enjoy hearing about yours. Not, I should emphasize, in a voyeuristic sense, but merely as a journalistic/academic exercise. Now, I realize such a request is unlikely to yield results unless anonymity is protected. So, please feel free to use a secret e-mail address from which to share your heteroclitic travel proclivities.

*undocumented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)/the American Psychiatric Association's standard reference for psychiatry

Friday, January 20, 2012

Crazy Travel: Place-Related Syndromes

As I will be referencing various place-related syndromes in some of my pieces on mental health and travel, here’s a brief primer. More in-depth features on each specific syndrome will be written soon--please grant me a bit of writer’s asylum.

The big kahuna is Jerusalem Syndrome. The malady is reported to impact some pilgrims to the Holy City, and is characterized by religiously-themed obsessive ideas or delusions (thinking one is the Messiah or feeling the need to shout verses from the Bible), or by psychotic behaviors ranging from ritual bathing to compulsive fingernail and toenail cutting. Although it may affect those of any religion, Scandinavians and American Protestants seem particularly susceptible. Some psychologists say Jerusalem Syndrome is a unique illness, while others say it is merely a symptom of pre-existing mental conditions.

If you are on a tour of Jerusalem, beware of the following behaviors from members of your group, as cited by one Dr. Gregory Katz in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2000.

Stage 1- Afflicted tourist becomes nervous, agitated and tense.
Stage 2- Tourist splits away from the tour group.
Stage 3- An obsession with cleanliness.
Stage 4- Sufferer prepares a long white robe.
Stage 5- Person begins to sing psalms, Bible extracts or religious songs.
Stage 6- Person marches to a holy place in Jerusalem.
Stage 7- Person starts delivering sermons on any mount.

Meantime, Paris Syndrome is a transient condition, most often suffered by the Japanese, during visits to the City of Light. It was first widely reported in Nervure, a French psychiatric journal, in 2004. About 20 Japanese tourists a year are affected by the condition, which is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and sweating, among others. According to the authors of the Nervure study, Japanese are particularly prone due to language barriers, culture clashes, travel exhaustion, and a pre-idealized image of Paris, to which the reality does not mesh.

Finally, Florence Syndrome, better known as Stendhal Syndrome, is a condition named after the 19th-century French author, who was overcome by the beauty and breadth of Renaissance masterpieces during a visit to Italy. Nowadays, what is considered a psychosomatic condition is marked by symptoms including rapid heartbeat, weak knees, dizziness, fainting, and confusion. It is said to happen when individuals are exposed to art that is profoundly alluring or uncommonly comely. But given that the affliction is primarily the bane of middle-aged British women, perhaps it is exposure to, ahem statuesque exposure, that sets off such carnal responses.