October 26, 2009

Air Traffic Control

My weeks of semi-stationary existence are coming to an end and so I spent the weekend printing up electronic tickets and folding laundry. My next month of travel has me bouncing around a fair amount, and so I found this video quite fascinating as it illustrates the daily flow of travel 'energy' that keeps our world turning. I have watched these spinning yellow dots again and again, and I confess that the ones that enchant me the most are the tiny, isolated dots working their way singly across the oceans. Those are the planes I want to be on.

October 23, 2009


Travel's not all post cards 'n roses. Sometimes visiting beautiful exotic places boils down to digestive discomfort and painful red bug bites and vomiting in public. The US State Department's Travel Warnings should always be served with a double dose of Sodium as they are often outdated and ethnocentric (not to mention massive generalizations); however, when it comes to deadly diseases and such, I do like to take my dime store precautions--especially before heading off to new latitudes.

Over the years I've collected a nice little trophy case of vaccinations. Some of these expire from time to time--like car registrations and jars of mayonnaise in the back of the fridge. Others last a lifetime. Anticipating upcoming travels to feverish climes, I got myself three new injections: yellow fever, typhoid, and the generic, vanilla flu shot. I am also begging Santa to give me my very own H1N1 flu vaccine before Christmas but that seems to be this year's Tickle-Me Elmo: outrageously popular and unconvincingly elusive. I shall have to keep sending letters and cookies to the North Pole.

I could bore you with my op ed series on malaria prophylaxis but I'll wait for a slow news month. I think I'm a skeptic at heart but depending on where and when I'm traveling, I will pop those crazy pills.

Thus today I blog with a sore left arm and a touch of self-pity as I contemplate all the things in the jungle that they DON'T make vaccines for. Like jaguars and anachronistic Marxist ideologies.

October 18, 2009

In Reykjavík

I arrived in Reykjavík a week ago.

I don't know exactly how many visits it takes for a city to feel familiar. No matter how many times I go to Manhattan, that city feels like an overwhelming surprise. London feels like many long years dodging the rain and coming home late and in England, I am still the consummate outsider. Paris for me is the freedom of being young and the liberty that comes from art--I have big memories in every arrondissement but I still have to check the metro maps to be sure. I wrote a 400-page travel guide to Kiev but I acknowledge that huge swaths of that city remain undiscovered to me.

I have been coming to Iceland's capital now for a decade. My first trip was August 1999 and I arrived on a grey and silent Sunday morning and walked the empty streets alone--an eager American in a Nordic ghost town. Ten years later, I finally tasted the not-silent Saturday night that procedes such Sundays. Thousands upon thousands of made-up fashion teens and basement rockers congregating on wet, dark streets; migrating from club to club, keeping their neon-light vigil 'til dawn. All searching for "it."

That Reykjavík simply means "Smoky Bay" is apt. For the outdoor smokers that blow tobacco clouds up between the red and blue metal houses. For the steam puffs that billow up from the ground and the silver smokestacks of power plants. For the cotton fog that dropped in on a Wednesday morning and only faded away in wisps on this early Sunday morning.

Only when the smoke disappears do you realize that there is a whole land out there--snow-dusted mountains and a panorama of seas, lighthouses, volcanoes. On thoses clear days the city feels new, fresh, and immense asa the sky. On smoky days, Reykjavík is only as big as your stride.

I am here for a music festival. Over two hundred musical acts are strumming, drumming and shouting their sounds out into the cold and we are all here to listen, tap our feet and clap. That these events should take place in a city of fish-filled warehouses and apartment blocks is right. Travelers love sincere places but we are afraid to ruin the moment by pointing them out.

I love this city of Reykjavík. I am not the first traveler to say it, nor feel it. But I add my little voice of admiration to all the rest of them because I like the way this tiny city makes me feel (happy), the way it sounds (like electric guitars and trumpeter swans), and smells (like coffee, clean rain and seaweed). I like coming back again and again and am so glad that I get to.

October 5, 2009

Autumn Update

My passport's been taking a break for more than 6 WEEKS (it must be European: next it'll be demanding a 30-hour work week and claiming to be "en grève" right when I need it most), however, that's not to say I'm not keeping rather busy. Writing about travel is one part travel and about ten parts writing, which explains the last 6 weeks. I'm currently cooking on all four burners and enjoying the smells in the kitchen, if you can forgive me that horrible metaphor. My culinary allusion probably has something to do with Gourmet magazine shutting down without ever begging me to write for them. Also, my personal recipe book happens to be an old school folder shoved full of stuff I've clipped out of Gourmet magazine, so we're kind of in crisis mode around here.

Anyway, what I am up to right now:
  • I am editing a 500 + page manuscript for the 3rd edition of my Ukraine guidebook. Things change wildly fast out on the far eastern fringes of Europe and I'm trying to keep all my good readers abreast and au courant. Heads up to my updater(s) who did such a thorough job scouring the country on my behalf.
  • The grammar of my fears was published on National Geographic's Intelligent Travel.
  • I have been nominating my favorite hotels for National Geographic Traveler's TO STAY List for 2010.
  • I am attacking a feature article about one of my trips this summer (for a magazine that shall remain nameless).
  • I am planning, researching, and writing not one, not two, but three upcoming talks for the Smithsonian Institution--the first is all about my summer trip to India, the other two are big, big secrets--Stay Tuned in 2010.
  • I met writer and Chinese-American goddess Amy Tan at National Geographic LIVE's new "Conversation" series. Prayed that she would rub off on me.
  • I'm still reviewing Washington's most fitting restaurants, clubs, and hotels for Blackbook magazine & attending this week's official opening of the new "W" hotel. But what will I wear?
  • I'm planning all my travels from now until March 2010 which are not few in number. Hint: there seems to be a lot of Southern Hemisphere happening.
  • I'm busy window shopping on SkyMall which you can read about here.
  • I'm spending way too much time on Twitter. Tweet, tweet. I have a lot of cool people following me & I am following a lot of very cool people. Thanks tweetpeeps.
Honestly, I always enjoy a bit of a break from the road while at the same time missing the thrill of it. Thankfully, I will be departing for my dear, dear Iceland in a week for some work and then later in the month headed out to my old college stomping grounds in Utah where I get to go trick-or-treating with my fine nieces and nephew. Can't wait!