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Gadling goes to Greenland!

So, there's this huge, ice-covered country at the top of the world--a place that we all fly over and love to overlook. Though perhaps you are more conscientious--perhaps you count yourself among the rare breed of traveler that is drawn to remote, disregarded landmasses where the mighty musk oxen roam. If that is the case--well then, Greenland is definitely the place for you.

I can say that with a straight face because I am blogging from Greenland right here, right now, even as the glowing green northern lights swirl outside my nighttime window. I'll be up here all week, investigating the country that all the maps tend to chop in half, or else distort wildly. To kickstart our Gadling coverage, I'm sending you this cheerful message of hope LIVE (nearly) from Greenland and--get ready for this: in Greenlandic! That's right. Good travelers know that learning a few words in the local tongue is always the best way to blend in with the locals, as is wearing national dress. For example, this reindeer-skin parka is de rigueur in much of Greenland (although quite inappropriate for the warmer month of September).

The local Inuit populace call their country Kalaallit Nunaat, which simply means "Land of the People". Now right away, I can tell you this is false advertising because honestly, there are not that many people in Greenland at all. This wee video clip was filmed in a village boasting exactly 50 inhabitants, all of which you can hear milling about in the background. In point of fact, Greenland is mostly empty, which is why it's so awesome.

*The author traveled to Greenland as a guest of Branding Greenland. This does not mean he is confederate to a sinister public relations plot. He is merely blogging from and about Greenland. Even so, the opinions expressed do not reflect those of the Greenlandic government, Gadling, or AOL.

My own private Michigan

Labor day cometh--that final round of summer's three 3-day weekends. Are you going anywhere special?

Honestly, I don't know of a better time to travel. Most of the kids are back at school, ticket prices begin to drop, the air cools and the best parts of summer team up for one last hurrah: a lingering outdoor barbecue, a chance to go hiking in shorts, and a final dip in the lake that will last us 'til next spring. Sometimes I feel like Labor Day is meant for filling up on summer memories, an almost-pagan rite of preparation for the coming schedule of winter.

Labor day is also a time to go back to the places we love-to return to those most magical places we knew and loved as children. For me, that place is northwestern Michigan.

If Michigan is a left-handed mitten, the Leelanau peninsula sits right at the tip of the ring finger. It's not really close to anything-five hours from Detroit and even farther from Chicago or Toronto. I remember it took a long time to get there--the best places do.

When you see them for the first time, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are unexpected, mammoth and impressive. A scientist might explain how during the last ice age, retreating glaciers dumped a few million tons of fine-grain sand in a long ridge. A little kid will tell you that it's just this huge mountain of sand and that you can run and jump and fall down and not ever get hurt. These massive dunes form the steep-sloped shoreline of the Leelanau peninsula-the highest of which is covered with a wind-shaped mound of soft black sand.

Back when I was a kid, the black sand offered a boggling mystery and a bedtime story. Unlike the phony campfire Indian legends that get dropped on the heads of young innocents, the legend of the sleeping bear is legit. Chippewa tradition recounts the story of a mother bear swimming across Lake Michigan to escape a forest fire. Her two cubs follow behind but drown. The mourning mamma bear became the black-tinted dune and the cubs were transformed into the two sandy islets offshore: North and South Manitou.

When I was a boy, there were still heaps of black sand sitting at the top of the mountain-time has eroded much of the sleeping bear's color away, though the dunes themselves remain. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore protects and preserves a 35-mile stretch of pristine beach from the kind of "development" that has ruined so much of our American coastlines. There are no radios on the beach here, no gas-guzzling dune buggies or gaudy sno-cone stands. All you have are the clear waves gently slapping the sand, the backdrop grassy dunes and blanket of green forest. Honestly, it's probably the quietest place in Michigan.

FAA seeks standards for space travel

The Federal Aviation Authority announced its intention to set standards for commercial space travel with the recent creation of the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. Based at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, the new center will build a brand new bureaucracy around the barely-there industry of space travel, starting with safety measures for potential passengers and licensing requirements for commercial astronaut-pilots.

Physical training and medical checks will become likely pre-requisites for tourists before traveling into space. Also, that little safety video you all have memorized might last a few days longer than you're used to, (though they're likely to keep that one part about how "items may have shifted during flight").

Currently, Virgin Galactic is the largest commercial space operator, selling tickets to "space" for $200,000 a pop. Unlike most airlines these days, that price includes your luggage.

(Photo: Hanna-Barbera)

Top 10 blueberry destinations

It's blueberry season again and if you haven't already indulged at home, there's still time to stain your hands and face out on the road. The high bush blueberry plant is native to North America but you'd be surprised by just how many varieties are out there and all the different places they grow. You might also be surprised to learn that in the United States, there are over 40 blueberry festivals per year. Picking the top ten poses a challenge (sorry, Indiana) but you can't go wrong with any of the following:

Wild blueberry plants carpet much of Maine's rocky terrain with reddish leaves and tiny, nibbly fruit that locals use in just about everything. Basically, you can't go to Maine and not eat wild blueberries because you will be standing on them. Before you go, make sure to reread the classic Blueberries for Sal, inspired by the islands of downeast Maine.

Iceland Technically, Bláber are bilberries (not blueberries), but try telling an Icelander that the blue-colored berries that grow wild all over their country (and called blue-berries) are not blueberries. They'll respond by informing you that Icelanders were calling them blueberries 500 years before America and it's other brand of blueberries were discovered. Icelandic blueberries are small and very sweet, ranging from dark purple to indigo in color. Blueberry season runs from August to early September. Be sure and sample the traditional blueberry soup (the best bowl I ate was at the one and only restaurant in Suðureyri, West Fjords).

Québec Blueberries reign supreme in the the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region of northern Québec. So much so that the local go by the nickname "Bleuets" (Blueberries) and blueberry pie is a mainstay on every menu in every town. What's more, village bars brew their own blueberry beer, blueberry sauce is a common condiment and gas stations sell little packets of homemade chocolate-covered blueberries. Serious cyclists can even ride the 256 km "blueberry circuit", a fantastic bike trail (with it's own paved bike lanes) that weaves through the heart of Canada's blueberry country.

New Jersey If you're American and ate blueberries this week, chances are they came from Jersey. The Garden State grows more blueberries than anywhere else in the world. Jersey fruit are known for being plump, juicy and almost cartoonishly perfect, which is why we love them so. Next time you're dreading the drive, why not drop away from the madness of the Turnpike and go pick your own? It's easy, given the number of blueberry patches and farms, like this one.

Airport hotel hookup: a true story

She was very blond and very thin--probably pushing fifty but still sexy in a silver, sleeveless, summer dress that cut off mid-thigh. I had met her back in the line at Managua when they first announced that our flight was delayed . . . for six hours. We groaned in harmony and commiserated: I just wanted to sleep in my own bed that night--she had to make a meeting in Detroit.

He was maybe twenty-five: scruffy from a week of not shaving and deeply tanned from the August sun. His black-brown surfer hair was pushed behind his ears and his board shorts hung low, showing an inch-wide band of boxer briefs. He piped in his own frustrations with a vague accent--half-Latino, I guessed. We were three strangers trapped in a Latin American airport, consoling one another with testimonials of just how much the airline sucked.

Armed with ten-dollar food vouchers, we hunted lunch in a Managua food court. I got mine to go but the two of them found a table and offered to watch one another's bags. Isn't it funny how only after a bit of conversation we'll gladly entrust our stuff with a person who only minutes ago was a perfect stranger?

We eventually made it onto the plane, then sat on the runway for another hour before taking off. At the ding of the seat belt sign, that blonde woman was up again, hovering down the aisle and leaning over his seat, spilling her neckline wide open and flashing her white teeth inside a moving frame of soft pink lipstick. Every ninety seconds or so, she tossed back a burst of long and shiny hair before letting loose with laughter that was as much lighthearted as it was rehearsed. The surfer guy mumbled back his approval, like a hunkier version of Charlie Brown's unseen teacher.

American Airlines kills puppies

Seven out of 14 young puppies died yesterday after flying American Airlines flight #851 from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. High temperatures and long flight delays were likely contributing factors, though further investigation is necessary to determine the exact cause of death.

American Airlines says they ship over 100,000 live animals a year. Some airlines refuse to ship dogs in the summer months due to the likelihood of heat exhaustion. American Airlines claims to adhere to temperature restrictions of 86° F when shipping live animals, which in this particular case, were overlooked. News reports put yesterday's morning temperatures in Tulsa at 87° F and climbing, while the plane spent over an hour waiting on the tarmac.

The Humane Society of the United States highly recommends against ever shipping animals by air unless absolutely necessary. The following guidelines specify that pets should not travel during the summer months or during any busy holiday travel season.

(Photo: Flickr/Richard Stowey)

Sidesplitting travel podcast hits the air

It's absolutely amazing what you find on the net: just the other day I was trawling around some safe-for-work soft core sites when I happened upon the Mike & Alex Show. Thinking I'd already seen that one, I just clicked onward. Later, however (while carefully deleting my browser's history), I realized that no, no, this was the MIke & Alex TRAVEL Show. "OH!" I laughed out loud, then sat down for the most thrilling half-hour of my life.

The podcast genre was long overdue for a kick in the pants and these two boys promise to do just that. For starters, both of their last names start with the letter "B", as in brilliant. Mike Barish and Alex(ander) Basek use their show to discuss everyday travel issues but without any of the soft-serve mollycoddling for which "podcast" has become synonymous. Also, these are funny guys who say funny things about travel stuff. In their very first audio issue, Mike & Alex take on Amsterdam's coffee shops and airplane movies and you'll agree with them 100%.

Honestly, I was hoping the show would sound less professional and more like emotionally-disturbed children taking razor blades to the Washington Post's travel section (there's still hope). I really have no idea who these two clowns are but ouch, my funny bone is hurting. Imagine your most hilarious guy friends sitting at the bar talking travel. In fact--Come to think of it, Mike Barish is the name of this guy I know who writes for Gadling.

Yeah, so a few things that might make the podcast funnier: some heavy-handed laugh tracks, more rubber chickens and perhaps a little tasteful post-racial repartee. Also, maybe they could play 30Rock really loud in the background?

To join the fastest-growing cult in the world, check out the site, the Twitter, and the Facebook. Otherwise, subscribe on iTunes and get ready for next week's trip to awesome.

The (Un)Wired: A Free Wi-Fi Manifesto

The year is twenty-ten A.D. and Wi-Fi should be free.
We travelers bear no grudge with you as long as you agree,
But if you're that one schmuck who likes to play it old school,
Charging folks for internet--well, then basically, you're a tool.

Your penny-pinching greed smells just like boardroom boredom.
It's out of touch and backwards, not to mention just plain dumb.
Please get with the program, be ye airport or hotel:
If you don't have free Wi-Fi, then you can go to hell.

Maybe somehow you're still stuck way back in 1999,
But nowadays, we're all online, everywhere and all the time.
We're riding on a bullet train to a place called progress,
Get on it or get off it; win or lose, more or less.

Now don't start waggin' your finger and talkin' 'bout capitalism.
'Cuz what you're doin' and what that is, capitalism it isn't.
You preach that competition matters most in a race,
But Bandwidth Bandit's the losing horse, so here's my trophy in your face.

Don't believe the suits who tell us bloggers we're too sassy,
'Cuz let me tell you dittoheads, "Do you know what's so not classy?"
Welcoming frequent flyers who only wanna soak their feet,
Then telling your five-star guest to go and check his email on the street.

Hey Luddite, while you're at it, dream big, don't stop there--
Stick your dirty hands in the water, in the men's room, if you dare.
You could make a fortune charging for all the stuff that should be free.
A nickel to wipe, a dime to pee, and half a buck to breathe.

Top 10 souvenir hats from around the world

Ever notice how every airport, tourist trap, and hotel gift shop is trying to sell you some kind of hat? That's because a hat is local. In a globalized world where McDonald's is universal and Duty Free in Dubai sells the exact same sunglasses and chocolate as Duty Free in Detroit, it's nice to know that there are certain things (like hats) that you can still only find in certain far-flung destinations. Once upon a time, the hats hanging in the back of your closet said loads about where you've been and what you're been up to, especially if you have the real deal. Read and learn:

Fez This red felt hat may be named after the tourist-loving Moroccan city of Fes, but it's traditionally found all across the former Ottoman empire as well as much of the Muslim world. Worn by: dancing monkeys, Muammar al-Qaddafi, bellhops in Cairo. Cheap knock-offs: The Shriners and some Istanbul bazaars. The Real Deal: Moroccan hatmakers, markets in Cyprus and the Balkans, the Turkish army.
Panama hat A finely handwoven straw hat still made in Ecuador, even though Panama takes all the credit. Worn by: Teddy Roosevelt,Panama Jack, and the poor laborers who dug the Panama Canal. Cheap knock-off: Paper imitations are made in China and sell for little while lesser-quality imitations are made and sold all over Panama for under $30. The Real Deal: Like sheets, what counts in authentic Panama hats is thread count. The tighter the weave, the better the quality (real Panama Hats will hold water and have more than 1,000 fibers per square inch). Hats must be made in Ecuador from the toquilla plant and have a black silk band around the base. Buy at fine shops in Panama, in Ecuador, or else for several thousand dollars at Christie's in London.

Hotels sued for enabling peeping tom

ESPN sportscaster (and third place winner of Dancing with the Stars) Erin Andrews has filed a civil lawsuit for $1.2 million against seven hotels (including both Marriott and Radisson) for negligence, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress as they enabled an ambitious peeping tom to film her naked.

Illinois insurance salesman (creepy!) Michael David Barrett stalked Ms. Andrews as she traveled the country, learning which hotels the reporter was staying in--as well as her room number--from hotel staff. Barrett would then check into the adjacent hotel room and alter Andrews' peephole in order to film her naked and distribute the clips on the internet. He has since been charged, found guilty of interstate stalking, and sentenced to more than two years in jail.

Typically, hotels brandish non-disclosure agreements and front desk employees will refuse to give out names or room numbers of guests. Andrews says she is suing the hotels "for making my most personal moments public." The hotels named in the suit include the florid Marriott Nashville at Vanderbilt University, the Radisson hotel in Milwaukee, and an another unnamed hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Regardless of the success of the case, the hubbub is likely to increase enforcement of privacy policies at such middle-rate hotels.

Until that day, here's a small travel tip for hotel guests: if you don't want people peeking into your room, cover the peephole with a piece of tape, a wad of used chewing gum, a clump or wet tissue, a post-it note covering the peephole, or whatever. It's that simple.

For further reading, check Robert K. Cole's excellent analysis of this situation.

(Photo: Flickr/Steve Garfield)

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