Archive for ‘Destinations’

March 1st, 2013

The Coolest Building in New York State?

by Joanna Eng

While housesitting for friends in Troy, New York, I came across a fascinating new-ish building on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. From the side, it looked like a wooden ship hull suspended inside a huge glass box on a Cornell-like slope.

EMPAC exterior

Once inside, you can see fun details, like these walkways heading into the wooden bubble at different levels.

EMPAC interior

Inside the wooden part, there’s a large, pristine performance space that’s supposed to have amazing acoustics.

EMPAC performance space

Speaking of sounds, throughout the building I could hear a mysterious and seemingly random melody. Upstairs, I discovered the source: an art exhibit that consisted of bowls floating in circular pools of water, clinking against each other in the most perfect way.

EMPAC art installation

It turns out it’s the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), and it opened in 2008. The whole building is specially designed to have innovative acoustic features. Seems like RPI would be a very cool place to study music and sound technology.

February 28th, 2013

More of Quirky New York City

by Joanna Eng

I’ve fallen behind in documenting my local adventures, but here are some highlights from the past few months:

  • The Steinway & Sons piano factory tour was inspiring and educational, probably the best tour I’ve ever been on in my life. And it’s right in Astoria, Queens. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was the only room where photos were allowed because there were no workers.

Steinway piano factory tour

  • In Sleep No More, adventurous theatergoers put on creepy white masks and explore a five-floor building with dim lighting and scary/antique props, all the while chasing around actors who are performing mostly silent scenes in unpredictable locations. I honestly couldn’t piece together much of a plot, but I loved independently wandering the set for three hours.
  • Hangawi is a special dinner spot, an oasis of calm in the middle of the frantic area of Koreatown/Midtown East. Guests take off their shoes and sit on pillows, with their feet in recessed spaces below floor level. The menu is all vegetarian. I also like the less-fancy sister restaurant, Franchia, that’s nearby.
  • Riding the vintage holiday train was a perfect way to brighten a winter day. I love that it runs on the regular subway line, making regular stops, and surprising regular riders who had no idea this was a even a thing.

Vintage holiday train

  • There’s a hidden artsy elevator in an otherwise boring office building about a mile from my house, and I found it!
  • The Amazing Maize Maze at the Queens County Farm Museum made for a fun, rural outing in the city. I’m sure corn mazes are much larger and more challenging when they’re anywhere besides NYC, but this one does the trick for city dwellers.

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August 14th, 2012

Arches, Canyons, and Nooks: Photo Highlights from Western U.S. Road Trip

by Joanna Eng

I just took a two-week break from writing about Queens and went out west in search of distinctly non-urban adventures. Instead of wedging myself between people and buildings as I normally do, I found some big rocks. Plenty of them.

Upon arrival, the first thing I did was find a ledge to hang out under at Red Rocks Park in Colorado.

Rafting down the Colorado River, surrounded by rock walls, was quite the adventure. (Thank you, NAVTEC Expeditions of Moab, Utah!) I highly recommend going in a separate inflatable kayak, juuust in case you end up in a group with 20 teenage boys.

Sand Dune Arch was my favorite spot to explore in Arches National Park in Utah.

Swimming in a canyon near New Agey shops in Sedona, Arizona, reminded me of my college days in Ithaca, New York.

This area of the Mojave National Preserve is called Hole-in-the-Wall, so of course I had to go there.

And, if I could declare one favorite rock formation in the world, it just might be a beach canyon. (Is that even a thing?) This one, in Ocean Beach, San Diego, had waves surging in from both ends.

December 12th, 2011

LGBT-Friendly Honeymoons

by Joanna Eng

I’ve been thinking a lot about honeymoons—specifically my own, which remains completely unplanned. We haven’t even settled on a country. But for us and many LGBT couples and straight allies, one factor that “helps” narrow down the list of destinations is the level of support that each country’s (or region’s) government offers to LGBT people.

Obviously, this filter can apply to any kind of travel, not just honeymoons. But since a honeymoon is specifically about celebrating a relationship, it’s particularly relevant. As a recently married couple, even a heterosexual one, would you want to commemorate your commitment in a place that doesn’t welcome gay couples? As a same-sex pair, general safety, comfort, inclusive cultural offerings, and equal treatment while traveling are some of the extra factors to consider.

Some honeymoon planners might want to pick from among the ten countries that currently allow full, legal same-sex marriages nationwide: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Other cities and states that have legalized same-sex marriages at a more local level include Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mexico City, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, DC.

Street art in Buenos Aires

Or you may want to at least avoid countries where same-sex relationships are completely illegal. There are plenty of other pro-LGBT and anti-LGBT measures to weigh; the ILGA website breaks down the relevant laws by country on a helpful map on its homepage. Beyond the legal factors, sources such as Equally Wed—a same-sex wedding magazine—provide information about what it might be like to travel to certain destinations as a same-sex couple.

You may also want to look into LGBT-welcoming accommodations wherever you decide to go. Purple Roofs is an international directory of bed and breakfasts, hotels, and tour operators that identify themselves as “lesbian owned,” “transgender owned,” “gay friendly,” etc. There are even discounts available at some lodgings if you mention Purple Roofs.

There are more gay travel websites and books out there, and targeted sections of guides such as Lonely Planet, but to be honest, most of these resources don’t seem all that helpful. Your best bet is probably to figure out where you might want to go first, and then look up independent LGBT sources specific to that destination.

Does anyone know of other resources to check or factors to consider when planning an LGBT-friendly honeymoon?

April 4th, 2011

Travel during Times of Political or Environmental Turmoil

by Guest

By Stephanie Grace Loleng for EthicalTraveler.org

When disaster hits a region, such as the earthquake, tsunami and radiation threat in Japan, or the political upheaval in the Middle East, governments take necessary measures to evacuate their citizens. Travel warnings are widely issued against non-essential travel to those countries. However, once the situation settles, some travelers still consider visiting nations with political or environmental troubles.

Government-issued travel advisories deter travelers from going to countries with political turmoil or natural disasters. After last month’s disaster in Japan, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert against non-essential travel to the country. It also warned against non-essential travel to Egypt during the recent political protests and eventual overthrow of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Furthermore, U.S. citizens were advised to leave Egypt, and travel companies evacuated their clients. For the most part, tour operators, travel companies and travel agents will abide by government travel advisories.

Yet some travelers choose to disregard these warnings. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, reporter Marc Champion chronicled his family’s trip to Egypt in early March, noting that “there may never be a better time to visit the land of the pharaohs. Cairo’s hotels are offering deals, flights are largely empty, tour companies are discounting, crowds are non-existent and, make no mistake, Egyptians want you here.”

One morning, Champion and his wife took their kids to Tahrir Square, where many of the 1,000 people gathered wanted to pose with the children. “Thank you for coming to our revolution,” said one of the protesters. The Egyptian uprising began on January 25, and within nine days, 1.1. million tourists left the country, according to then-Vice President Omar Suleiman (cited by Champion). Only now, over a month after the resignation of Mubarak on February 11, are travelers slowly coming back. Yet Champion notes that even though there are still tanks in Cairo, he and his family didn’t feel unsafe. It seems that Egypt is safe for travelers despite the State Department warnings.

There is a difference between a State Department travel alert, such as that issued for Japan, and a travel warning, such as the one issued for Egypt. A travel alert addresses short-term events and is canceled as soon as the immediate danger is over, while a travel warning reflects ongoing problems. According to the State Department website, travel warnings “remain in place until the situation changes,” sometimes for years. However, as a recent Budget Travel article points out, tour operators are starting to organize trips to Egypt again even though the travel warning is still in place.

According to Alan Lewis, chairman of Grand Circle Corporation, which owns the travel brands Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel, the decision to continue tours to Egypt was made after “extensive meetings with ground operators, community leaders, and tourism officials,” Budget Travel reports.

Safe to travel to Japan?

According to its website, the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently “not advising general restrictions on travel to Japan.” However, the organization does advise avoiding areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami because of “disruptions to essential services such as transport and electric power.” They also advise that travelers read the FAQs regarding the concern of nuclear radiation exposure in certain areas.

Some countries are specifically warning citizens not to travel to areas that may be affected by the earthquake and threat of radiation from the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant. According to Smartraveller, an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and and Trade website, Australian citizens are advised “not travel to Tokyo, areas surrounding Tokyo and Honshu north of Tokyo due to disruptions to essential services, infrastructure damage, aftershocks and continuing uncertainty about the status of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.”

The United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office also advises travelers “against all but essential travel to Tokyo and north east Japan given the damage caused by the 11 March earthquake, the resulting aftershocks and the tsunami.” The also advise British nationals in Tokyo and north of Tokyo to leave the area because of the situation at the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant.

Despite these warnings, Travel Weekly cites recent research showing that devastation in a country has only a short-term impact on travel. According to a study done by research analyst TNS in early February, during the riots in Egypt, more than half (55 percent) of adults said they would be deterred by a terrorist attack from booking a destination, 44 percent by civil unrest or riots, 37 percent by a natural disaster, and 28 percent by government collapse. Despite this, almost nine out of 10 (87 percent) of the more than 1,600 people surveyed had not changed, postponed or cancelled a trip because they were concerned about safety or security in the region. The two biggest worries for travelers were getting sick overseas and losing their passport. These statistics show that although a large percentage of travelers are worried about travel to a country experiencing political or environmental strife, it is not an overwhelming concern.

The U.S. State Department encourages U.S. citizens who are traveling abroad to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which allows travelers to register contact information and travel details before departure. The State Department can then communicate travel alerts, warnings and updates from embassies, as well as contacting the traveler in the event of a crisis.

February 9th, 2011

Best of the Berkshires

by Joanna Eng

Back in November, I spent a week in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, as part of an assignment with the travel site Trazzler. Here are some of my favorite, Go Lightly-worthy experiences:

I also compiled some of my encounters with local food, art, and nature into a longer article, which you can read here on GoNOMAD. Enjoy!

November 26th, 2010

Why Visit the Berkshires?

by Joanna Eng

I lived in Massachusetts for 20 years and never knew the beauty of the Berkshires until I went on a travel writing assignment for Trazzler this past week. It had never occurred to me to visit the area before, but I loved it. Here’s why.

Spirit of cooperation. There is a dearth of chain stores and a plethora of small, independent businesses. Almost everywhere I went I noticed that the small businesses—inns, shops, restaurants, farms, galleries—actively promoted each other and sold local products. It’s a sustainable, friendly model that I would be glad to support as a tourist or resident.

Seasonal, local food. An innkeeper told me that the farm-to-table dining movement originated in the Berkshires. And beyond restaurants, there are plenty of opportunities to visit farms and see directly where your food comes from.

Outdoor activities. Hiking trails, scenic views, and natural wonders abound.

Olivia's Overlook. Photo by Joanna Eng.

Creative culture. My trip was filled with an eclectic mix of galleries, museums, public art, and live music. Even when I wasn’t looking for art, I found it everywhere, including town recycling bins.

Brain food. At every stop, there was something to learn: how my beer was brewed, why this area of woods has fewer trees, the political history behind the song they’re about to sing, the origin of the marble in that fireplace.