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Chinatowns of the World

Travelers create all sorts of interesting themed trips these days, but I don't recall hearing about a tour that visits all the world's Chinatowns just yet. Have I missed it? Well, if it hasn't been done yet, someone will get around to planning such an adventure eventually, I'm sure. In the meantime, a new exhibit that opens in New York this week offers a nice overview that can help with itinerary planning -- if you're up to the challenge of visiting the more than 300 Chinatowns that exist around the world today!

In association with New York's Chinatown Film Festival, the Storefront for Art and Architecture is hosting Chinatowns, a collection of over 1,000 images taken by almost as many photographers. This global tour spans over 100 cities on four continents: "It is a visual tribute to the diversities and idiosyncrasies, as much as the similarities, that unite these urban communities scattered all over the world."

The exhibit opens on Tuesday, December 11 and will run through December 22, 2007.

One for the Road: Hotel - An American History

A copy of this book, paired with some room reservations at a classic American hotel, might be a nice holiday gift for the history buff in your life: Hotel - An American History is a volume of stories and illustrations that explores how the hotel came to be in this country. The book tracks the invention of hotels in America, as inns and taverns gave way to the creation of majestic architectural masterpieces suited with grand ballrooms and private bed chambers. This review tells more:

Once upon a time, hotels were simply way-stations where weary travelers could stop to rest along a journey that could take many days. But over the centuries, hotels evolved into the symbols of American capitalism and of urban life. The biggest and best of them provided glamour, sophistication, elegance, and excitement, and A. K. Sandoval-Strausz has now given them the recognition they deserve. Beautifully illustrated and engagingly written, Hotel will reward both the specialist and the general reader.-Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University

Topics explored include: What it was like to sleep, eat, and socialize at a hotel in the mid-1800s; How hotelkeepers dealt with the illicit activities of adulterers, thieves, and violent guests; The stories behind America's greatest hotels, including the Waldorf-Astoria, the Plaza, the Willard, the Blackstone, and the Fairmont; and how the development of steamboats and locomotives helped create a nationwide network of hotels.

One for the Road: The Geography of Hope - A Tour of the World We Need

From Canada, the Globe and Mail's Top 100 books of 2007, introduces us to Chris Turner's story, The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, in which the author travels the world in search of finding hope for a sustainable future for his daughter. What he discovers, with regards to sustainable design, housing, power and community, is both positive and promising. Turner's travels take him from northern Thailand to southern India, with stops in Europe and North America as well.

From the Globe's review: Chris Turner does his daughter proud. The Geography of Hope makes an overwhelming case for an abundant, even limitless amount of hope for humanity. The book is a captivating travelogue, the writing marked by piquant observations and raw, emotional engagement with farmers, radicals, business people, activists and indigenous people the world over.

Turner's previous book had global appeal of a different kind: Planet Simpson has been called the "...the definitive Simpsons study." In this new book he's turned his attention to a different topic, but with similar pop culture appeal that should attract a broad audience of readers. As the Globe points out, "...his stories are full of references to his love of driving, cold beer, the Big Lebowski and The Simpsons." And sustainability too! Sounds like a great one to kick off the new year with, huh? As Turner says on his own website, "...a book about hope makes a wonderful Christmas/Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus gift, so act now!"

One for the Road: Globetrotter's Logbook

Last time I mentioned the Globetrotter's Logbook series, I focused on their newest guide, a niche book devoted to six Flemish cities. But now that I've had a chance to personally use their flagship product, Counties of the World, I wanted to be sure to pay special tribute to this unique mini-book, which might just be the perfect holiday gift for that special traveler in your life. The best part about giving (or receiving) one of there tiny travel gems is the smart and crafty packaging. I opened an airmail envelope (from Belgium, where this book is published) to reveal crisp brown parcel packaging, tied in natural cord with vintage stamps, postmarks and my name personally scripted in heavy ink. Unwrapping the classy packaging reveals a stylish moleskine-type book enclosed in its own little box, perfect for protecting it from the harsh elements of constant world-travel.

This precious little travel journal is a must-have for explorers. The bulk of the book contains quarter-page listings for every country of the world, complete with important stats and mini-flag pictures for each. There are several ways to keep track of which countries have been visited, as well as registers for tracking vaccinations and 100 flights. Look closely and you'll find other treasures hidden within the pages of this slim logbook - facts, figures and inspiring quotes decorate the pages, and there are blank spots too, for scribbles about the details of very special journeys.

One for the Road: Notable African Explorers - Stanley, Hatton and Mahoney

The New York Times just released its list of 100 Notable Books of 2007. Although we previously mentioned notable selection Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney, two other adventure-themed titles on the list caught my eye:

The first is Stanley - The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal. According to Paul Theroux's review, "Of the many biographies of Henry Morton Stanley, Jeal's, which profits from his access to an immense new trove of material, is the most complete and readable."

Another notable travel-inspired book worth mentioning is Sara Wheeler's Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, otherwise known as the man immortalized by a hunky Robert Redford in Out of Africa. From the NYT review: "In Finch Hatton, Wheeler has found the archetypal wanderer forced to straddle multiple worlds. He embodies the contradictions of the early modern age and, in some ways still, of ours. "He was," she writes, "the open road made flesh."

All three of these stories about African explorations have been recognized as notable works, and each one really does sound like a fascinating read. Maybe some good holiday gift ideas for you or your literary loved-ones?

Exposed in a Travelpod: The world's first mobile hotel room

Writing about normal rooms reminded me of another possible (albeit odd) sleeping alternative to traditional hotels. I first learned about the Travelpod from this Age article by Benji Laynado: For those too posh to pitch recounts Benji's experience sleeping in one of Travelodge's mobile hotel rooms -- a transparent glass structure with clear polycarbonate walls, carpeting, AC, double bed and other furniture, but no shower. This is the second generation Travelpod, a revised version of the original room that was trialed in 2006, with added design features.

For about $65 bucks a night, the mobile hotel room can be transported from one of Britain's Travelodge hotels to any destination that allows permission for the room to be placed there. Benji chose a field for his out-of-the-box-while-in-a-box travel experience, and had a good night's rest in what he calls "the top of the camping chain." Interesting concept, but confusing, as Benji notes: "I came here to get outdoors, yet everything around me is trying to convince me indoors is great, too."

The book Sex in a Tent reviews love-making tips for locations other than a typical tent -- canoe, beach, sturdy tree -- but what about the Travelpod? Would hooking-up in one of these count as an outdoor sexual experience if the structure was simply plopped down in a rural location? Something unimportant to ponder, eh? And how come I can't find anything about similar structures in the US? Has any American hotel chain experimented with transportable hotel rooms yet? The whole thing seems quite silly to me, but still fascinating to follow these outlandish travel trends.

Normal rooms from around the world

Forget about swanky hotels and posh villas -- why not travel the world visiting normal rooms? It's now possible to take a virtual journey this way, thanks to the folks behind Normal Room, a design inspired photo database of homes from around the world. The goal behind this project is to showcase personal interior design from all corners of the globe. Submit pixs of your favorite rooms, and garner design ideas from other savvy stylists.

This is another one of those quirky social networking experiments -- a community project highlighting the differences and similarities in architecture and home decoration between people in different countries. What does a lounge look like in Buenos Aires? Or an average dining room in China? Or an ordinary living room in Japan? It's definitely a cool way to gather design ideas for your own home improvement projects.

And I think the folks at Couchsurfing should team up with these guys. I'm envisioning some sort of partnership in which users could search for available couches and the results page would then feature photos and links to normal rooms - and normal couches - from around the world.

One for the Road: Don Quixote vs. Donkey Xote

Even though this book about Don Quixote was released last year, I thought now was an appropriate time to mention it, since the first animated version of the famous novel will debut in Spain this week. Fighting Windmills - Encounters with Don Quixote takes a closer look at the making of this masterpiece of world literature, tracing its impact on writers and thinkers across the centuries. Authors Manuel Duran and Fay Rodd explore the central themes of Cervantes great work, and follow it up with examples of how the novel influenced generations of other writers.

One thing the book might not touch on is the fact that, although th 17th century story has touched many, few have actually read both volumes cover to cover. Will this week's release of a first-ever animated rendition inspire more folks to take a stab at actually reading the lengthy tale? Probably not, but beginning this Wednesday, Spaniards will be able to view a condensed 80-minute cartoon version of the classic journey. Donkey Xote, a $20 million film production, took five years to make, and comes complete with a Shrek-like donkey. You can view the English trailer here.

Hungarian wine on my mind

A few weeks ago I enjoyed sampling some Hungarian wines at a New York reception hosted by Perceptive Travel magazine. The folks at Monarchia Winery and Hungarian Tourism were kind enough to provide a collection of regional wines for tasting. I particularly enjoyed sampling two Tokaj varieties. Traditionally known for its sweet dessert wines, the two I tasted were drier, and quite nice. (You want to know what they are called, right? Yeah...well someone has misplaced her notes. Maybe one of my travel writing pals will jump in with an informative comment?!)

It was a pleasant evening, and left me reminiscing about my introduction to Hungarian wines, which began when I arrived in Budapest in spring 2006 on the eve of the country's national labor holiday. I checked into my room at Grotta Haz, a quiet hostel on Castle Hill that unfortunately no longer operates. The best part of this place, besides the fact that no one else seemed to know about it, was that the owners operated a wine bar in the basement. Eszter, my gracious hostel host, doubled as bartender in the evenings, and welcomed me with an inviting glass of red from the Villany region. Throughout that week, after long days of sightseeing, I'd return to the Grotta, exhausted, but ready to sample whatever Eszter suggested. She introduced me to cuvees and rieslings from the Szekszardi region and also encouraged me to check out the nearby Hungarian House of Wines.

Art Asks: Are We There Yet?

I'm especially drawn to art that is influenced by the travel experience, or aims to make a statement about location, landscape or place. A new exhibit in New York asks the question: Are we all in need of a new frontier? The artists involved in this project all say yes, and seek to demonstrate their concern for our constant need to "expand our boundaries, extend and streamline the form and function of the natural landscape and adapt it to the speed, depth and quality of our daily life."

This "anti-monumental approach to Land-Art" is a collection of works that show concern for the power, agency and increasing responsibility of humankind for the environment. From the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts:

"Are We There Yet?" the child's obnoxious road-trip refrain, is a question/statement that implies a mix of excitement and inherent dissatisfaction with whatever place the parents might be driving to. Kids (...and artists?) are constantly expanding their knowledge of the natural world and raising the bar for future experiences. In short, they are perennially one step away from their own personal "frontier," a place of learning as well as a physical threshold.

The show features the work of six artists and runs through February 2 at the EFA Gallery on W. 39th in NYC.

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