Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Points of View

If you've ever huffed and puffed your way to the top of a mountain or even a decent overlook spot, you know that a great view can be worth the effort. There's a hotel in Chile that proves the point. From Santiago, you take a four-hour flight south to Punta Arenas, where the hotel van will pick you up for the five-hour drive (half of that time on a dirt road) to the hotel on the shore of Lake Pehoe in Chilean Patagonia. The hotel is the 50-room Hotel Salto Chico. Click here to see what people say about it on TripAdvisor.

I've been to Patagonia, but only the drier Argentinian part. To the west, across the Andes, the Chilean side is wetter and, I'm told, much more scenic. Photos such as the one here, of a room at the Hotel Salto Chico, seem to prove the point. This place looks like a comfortable (let's say it -- posh) base for any exploration of Chilean Patagonia. It was brought to my attention by the Most Perfect View, a just-launched web site promoting hotels with what most people would consider perfect views.

These hotels are not all in unbearably remote places. There's the Standard NYC, sibling to celebrity magnets in Miami Beach and Hollywood, that's conveniently accessible at Washington and 13th streets in Manhattan. That puts it between the West Village and the Meatpacking District. Its views, seen here from a bathtub, look west across the Hudson to New Jersey. Not Patagonia, but not bad, especially at sunset.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nevada: Nights in Vegas, Days in the Mountains and Desert

You've probably heard that Nevada has been hit harder than most states in the current economic downturn. It's not just the housing market -- it's everything.

And just as bad news for a foreclosed homeowner can be good news for a home buyer, the slowing of Las Vegas tourism is good news for anyone who goes there now.

Everything that anyone goes to Vegas for is still there -- the casinos, the shows, the spectacle and the amazing desert wilderness outside town.

It's not hard to find hotels deals. In addition to the usual suspects like, take a look at, which offers all sorts of tips for holiday and other trips to Vegas. For example, there are some holidays that don't attract many visitors at all --Thanksgiving, for one -- and that's when you can get the best deals.

If you go to Vegas, don't spend all your time in a windowless casino. Did you know there's skiing nearby? Check out And there are a number of companies that offer ATV excursions and other activities in the desert. If you're interested in hiking, you probably can't do better than Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but get out of town a little and have an experience worth talking about.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ole Miss: It's Complicated

There's an interesting article in the Travel section of the New York Times for Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. The article, by Dwight Garner, is nominally about a football weekend at Ole Miss, but it's really a portrait of the campus and the town of Oxford, Miss. I have long thought that the more one knows firsthand about a subject, the more inaccuracies one will see in any newspaper article on that subject. That's not the case here.

Of course, the Oxford and the Ole Miss that I knew firsthand no longer exist. I entered Ole Miss as a freshman from Jackson, Miss. (hey, Dwight, try to wring a travel article out of Jackson), in 1969 at the height of the Archie Manning era and left with a B.A. in journalism in 1972. My last semester, fall of 1972, I worked at the local paper, the Oxford Eagle.

I've been back to Oxford three times since. Once in the mid-90s with a former roommate and his wife; once with my kids around 2002 or so, and once in 2008 with my wife, Jane. The last time was to do an article about Oxford as a weekend-home destination for the New York Times. If you click on that link, please be assured that I also wince at the headline, which should say the streets are lined with magnolias, not paved.

Like Dwight Garner's article, mine begins with the importance of Faulkner to the town's current cachet. And bookstore owner and then-Mayor Richard Howorth. My article suggests Oxford as a weekend destination for people who already have a reason to want to go there: kids in school, old-school ties, affinity for Southern culture, etc.

His article touches on something I hear a bit about (thanks to a couple of nephews who went to Ole Miss, not to mention their mother and two uncles): that Ole Miss no longer cares about football. The party is more important. When I was a student, everyone seemed to take the football very seriously, the parties in the Grove were relatively modest (no chandeliers, no fine china that I recall), and after a loss, there would be a lot of profoundly sad people. I found out just how seriously people took football when I wrote an editorial in the student newspaper calling for the end of varsity sports there -- I was upset that athletes had air-conditioned dorms and I didn't. I was the object of some abuse for a while, but it wasn't as if I had suggested banning Bourbon-soaked picnics in the Grove.

Today's focus on parties? Just shows that, even in Mississippi, progress is possible.