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The Spice Isle: Grenada moves on past Hurricane Ivan

I didn't know a lot about Grenada before visiting recently, but one name was familiar to me: Ivan -- the hurricane that came through with force in 2004. So once I got there, I wanted to find out two things: what's it like during a hurricane? And how does the country look now, five years later?

You first have to realize -- the hurricane was a fluke. The reason some residents were actually excited to see a hurricane in person was because hurricanes come so infrequently and Ivan would be their first. (The previous one was Janet in 1955.) Located 12 degrees above the equator, in the southeast part of the Caribbean, Grenada sits outside the hurricane belt.

By all accounts from the stories I heard, "Ivan the Terrible" was a rager. News had been as moody and unreliable as the hurricane itself – first saying that it was coming, then saying it wasn't – before Ivan struck soon after. Winds blew 130 mph strong, making it a category 3 storm, as it made its way to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Florida. 28 people in Grenada were killed, 18,000 people were homeless, and 90% of the buildings were damaged and 30% were destroyed.

All important things to realize. But even more, from what I've seen and heard, Grenada should be known for overcoming these things as much as enduring them.

The Spice Isle: Where trails are paved with nutmeg shells

"You can use it for tea" he says after picking the small leaf and handing it to me to smell.

There doesn't seem to be anything that Telfor Bedeau doesn't know about Grenada's plants. In the past 50 yards alone, he's pointed out trees that would've gone unnoticed as anything other than anonymous tropical trees. But now they're recognized as some of my favorite things in the world: guava, mango, cinnamon. I'm already imagining my next supermarket trip back home going a little differently.

Telfor would be considered spry for any age, but especially since he just turned 70. He celebrated the day by doing what he seems to do (and love) best: hiking up to the top of Grenada's highest peak, Mount Saint Catharine (2,757 feet).

It was his 157th time.

Known as the "Indiana Jones of Grenada," he reached the milestone of having hiked 10,000 miles throughout Grenada in 2005. Guiding since 1990, he hikes in jellies (plastic sandals) while everybody else on the trail relies on treaded sneakers and walking sticks. He's easy to extend a smile to everyone, and a hand to anyone who needs one.

It's not that I'm writing this to flatter him -- there's little chance that he'll read this, since he doesn't use a computer or have email. No doubt it contributes to his youthful appearance. That and all the hiking. And the fact that his diet solely consists of raw fruits and vegetables.

So it was with intrigue –- both in my hiking guide Telfor and the trail –- that I hiked to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls in Grand Etang National Park.

  • Mona monkey
  • Grand Etang National Park
  • Guava tree
  • Seven Sisters Waterfall hike
  • Seven Sisters Waterfall hike
  • Telfor Bedeau

The Spice Isle: Nutmeg's always the answer in Grenada

You wouldn't know it from the abundance of nutmeg in shops, but Grenada's production of the spice stopped five years ago. And it'll continue to be at a halt for another five years. Why? Because of Hurricane Ivan. 82% of the island's nutmeg trees were destroyed by the 2004 hurricane.

But amazingly enough, there's still plenty of nutmeg there.

On my recent trip to Grenada, I found it everywhere -- mostly whole (as large seeds) and ground. But at any market, you'll also find it as jelly and jam, as essence and oil, as syrup for ice cream, as a sugary candy (oddly named "nutmeg cheese"), and in everything else from ice cream to coffee. Buy one of the island's rum drinks from the bar, and you'll always get a finishing touch of grated nutmeg on top. It even has medicinal purposes –- Nut-Med comes as a lotion or spray to relieve pain in muscles and joints.

Is it just me, or does it seem to make everything happy, like egg nog during the holidays?

Actually, it may be scientifically proven. It's been said that if you get a big enough whiff of the fresh spice, you'll get a type of addictive high.

  • Dougaldston Spice Boucan, Grenada
  • Cacao pod
  • Cocoa beans
  • Cocoa fermentation
  • Drying cocoa beans
  • Cocoa beans

Blizzard forces delays and cancelations at Denver airport

Is it just me or is it a little early for a winter snowstorm?

The Denver International Airport (DIA) had to cancel flights yesterday due to blizzard conditions. It was just too difficult to keep runways and taxiways clear, so United canceled about 200 of its 400 flights departures and arrivals, and Frontier canceled 19 of its 155 departures. Passengers on flights that had been delayed find themselves waiting one to four hours.

As of yesterday afternoon, about a foot of snow had dropped since Tuesday evening. But the wind -- with 20 to 40 mph gusts -- is actually the greater threat, rather than the snow.

The two east-west runways have been closed, but the other four north-south runways remain open.

Anybody with a flight scheduled into or out of DIA should check their flight status before going to the airport.

New luxury trains coming to India

It just goes to show that luxury travel may be as enduring as the Taj Mahal.

Even in this economy, not one but two luxury trains are debuting in India in the next few months.

The Indian Maharaja-Deccan Odyssey, the first privately-operated luxury tourist train in India, will launch on November 18. Its seven-night, eight-day itinerary includes Mumbai-Aurangaba-Ahmedabad-Udaipu-Sawai-Madhopur-Jaipur-Bharatpur-Agra-Delhi.

Maharajas' Express will launch soon after, on January 9. It's making the rounds along two routes: either seven nights/eight days through Mumbai-Vadodara-Udaipur-Jodhpur-Bikaner-Jaipur-Ranthambore-Agra-Delhi and back; or six nights/seven days through: Delhi-Agra-Gwalior-Khajuraho-Bandhavgarh-Varanasi-Gaya-Kolkata (with an option of a reverse trip).

The trains will be a throwback to Orient Express standards. On the Indian Maharaja-Deccan Odyssey, the Presidential Suite replicates a five-star hotel, complete with a bedroom, living area, and personalized bathroom. Prices range from $525/per person per night to $1,120 on the Indian Maharaja-Deccan Odyssey, and $800 to $2,500 on the Maharajas' Express.

So far, the trains are said to have strong bookings, especially with travelers from the UK, Japan, and Germany.

[Thanks, Jaunted]

Joie de Vivre deals: Mobile Mondays, Twitter Tuesdays, Facebook Fridays

Before you finalize your travel plans, check the calendar first.

The California hotel chain Joie de Vivre is offering deals galore, but you have to know where and when to look. If it's a Monday, check your cell phone. If it's a Tuesday, check Twitter. If it's a Friday, check Facebook.

The day also determines the type of discount. You'll get special offers at restaurants and spas on Mondays, while you'll get news on hotel discounts on Tuesdays and Fridays -- all through December 2009.

To fully be in the social-media loop, become a mobile subscriber by texting the message "JDV" to 888999, follow them on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

These deals are in addition to their current "Third Night Free" promotion.

[Thanks, LA Times]

The Bookmobile: swapping stories and hitting the road

It's appropriate that at Litquake -- the recent week-long celebration of books in San Francisco -- I'd find out about unconventional ways of honoring the written word.

I came across the Bookmobile, parked on busy Valencia Street with its doors open wide, inviting visitors to come inside.

'Is it a library or a bookstore?' I wondered, trying to categorize it so I could understand it. The thing is, it's neither.

It's a truck that's empty inside, except for wooden shelves on each of the side walls, which are filled with books. The concept is simple and brilliant: step inside and get a book. In return, they don't ask for money. They ask to videotape your response to the question "what book influenced your life?"

Creative and thought-provoking, right? Even better, the Bookmobile will soon put its wheels in motion to reach people in small towns along the Lincoln Highway. It's set to leave San Francisco in April and arrive in New York City in mid-May.

At the helm is founder, Tom Corwin, who has had success as an author, music producer, and film producer. And if you think the driver looks familiar, you'd be right. Along the way, different authors -- including Amy Tan, Tom Robbins, and Dave Eggers -- will be joining the road trip and taking their turn at the wheel.

At the end of the project, Tom will combine the interviews with a history of the Bookmobile and create a documentary, appropriately named "Behind the Wheel of the Bookmobile." He hopes to finish the film by spring 2011.

"Books influence our lives in ways too often untold," says Tom. "Our trip is designed to tell some of those stories while our back roads route connects the project to America's literary history."

You can only imagine the stories waiting to be told -- both by people along the Lincoln Highway and the authors themselves. They're likely to be as varied as the books out there. Already in the archives is the story of Ralph Eubanks, the Director of Publishing at the Library of Congress, who recalls being thankful to visit a bookmobile during his childhood. As an African-American in Mississippi, he could get books there, when he couldn't get them at the library.

The Bookmobile on this trip is authentic, alright. Until recently, the "Old Gal" made her rounds of the suburban Chicago area for 15 years (and 70,000 miles) to bring books and the love of reading to children and adults. Bookmobiles have been used as mobile libraries for towns without library buildings and for people with difficulty accessing libraries -- the first U.S. bookmobile ran in Maryland in 1905.

Books have already been donated by libraries and publishers, but what the project could use now are money donations (from $35 for 'buy a mile' to more for 'buy a state').

If you're not on the cross-country route, you can still be a part of the Bookmobile experience. Submit the story of the book that influenced your own life (in 200 words or less) to the Bookmobile website. And follow along via the website's blog and interviews, or get updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Virgin America considers new boarding: baggage-free passengers first

It happened to me the other day. I had my plane ticket in hand and stepped aboard the soon-to-depart airplane, but couldn't sit down. Why? Because of the 15 people in front of me who needed to find spots in overhead bins for their carry-on suitcases.

We all know that the boarding process has slowed down because of baggage fees. More people are opting to stow their suitcases as carry-ons rather than check them.

Virgin America is testing a way that might speed up the entire process.

It would mean that anybody without carry-ons would board first. Then, everybody with carry-ons would board second.

I think it's brilliant. Fewer people would be in the aisles, meaning that the folks with bags might be able to find overhead space more easily. And hey, fewer people would be annoyed. It has the potential to work, and I'm glad to see that an airline has the foresight to consider it as an alternative to the norm.

That said, I might personally choose to stall, if given the choice. I usually prefer to be one of the last people on the plane (I'd rather spend my time standing in the airport than sitting on the plane). If others rationalized the delayed boarding in the same way, would that just negate all of the positive aspects of this new system?

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  • My dog needs her own room.
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Say 'arrivederci' to cars in Florence's Piazza Duomo

It's a given -- any visit to the main piazza in Florence means being among a crowd. But thanks to a decision by the city's mayor Matteo Renzi, visitors will soon get a little breather (literally and figuratively).

Starting October 25, cars, buses, and even horse-drawn carriages will be banned from the popular nucleus of activity near the Duomo and Baptistry.

The reason is to reduce the carbon monoxide (2.6 tons) and fine particulate (450 kilos) in the area -- bad for both lungs and the walls of the light-colored cathedral. The number of buses making rounds daily through the area will be reduced by 500 -- from 2,740 to 2,200.

The people least likely to celebrate the change? Taxi drivers, of course. That just means more space for you and I to dance for joy at the celebratory open-air concert on October 25th.

And if the mayor's decision just happens to extend the length of space available for a good stroll -- the lovely passegiata -- I say 'grazie' to that.

Free night at Sheraton up for grabs

It's not often that you have such a good chance at winning a free stay at a hotel. Sheraton will be giving away 2,100 one-night stays at 86 locations during its Check-In On Us Giveaway.

You must be able to stay at the Sheraton hotel that you choose on Friday, October 23rd. You'll be limited to that day for your overnight.

First register online, and then you can enter the giveaway once a day between October 6-9. There's a chance that you might not win a room at the specific hotel you choose, but you'll know instantly.

If you don't win, you can try back the next day, through October 9. The rooms are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you win, congratulations--it's all paid for! The hotel will cover the fees, taxes, and surcharges for the one night, but any additional nights and services will be your responsibility.

The promotion isn't valid at all of the locations, but it is at 40% of them in the U.S. and Canada--meaning 86 locations. You must be specific and choose one hotel each time that you enter to win.

If the rooms are already booked by the time that you enter, you'll still be offered a coupon for a room discount.

The promotion highlights Sheraton's recent renovations. They've added or renovated 70,000 hotel rooms worldwide since 2007, and all of the hotels featured in the promotion are either new or newly renovated.

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