Five Books to Satisfy Your Travel Jones
Some folks like to dream over cozy garden catalogs, others prefer to picture themselves in the great unknown. This year’s pick of travel books sweeps the compass from carnivals to culture, islands to ice cream. From a trip with the boys to Walt Disney World to Arctic extremes featuring the biggest, hairiest, farthest, and deepest. It’s all good. Climb the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or the Trango Towers of Pakistan. Dawdle in Manhattan’s Museum of Sex or the vanilla orchards of Tahiti. More simply, set aside those catalogs and savor some traditions from the ancient Land of the Rising Sun. By the couch or by the skin of your teeth, there’s an adventure for all.
Four Seasons of Travel: 400 of the World’s Best Destinations in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall
Andrew Evans, contributor
Hardcover $40.00 (320pp)
It’s the dead of winter: time to get out of town. Most folks will think beach, but National Geographic’s latest coffee-table offering inspires creativity. Why not celebrate snow instead of flying away from it? Quebec City’s Winter Carnival is the world’s largest—and they have hot swimming pools. Try cross-country skiing in Yosemite, or Christmas in London, which, according to actor Alec Baldwin, is a home away from home “with its mix of solemnity, sarcasm, and the spoken word as art form.”
A two-page map and index begin Four Seasons of Travel, clearly depicting the worldwide spread of opportunities. Seasonal color-coding organizes the 400 destinations neatly. Pertinent Top Ten lists are scattered throughout. In the Summer section, you’ll find the best ice cream—from Michigan to Melbourne—best whale and dolphin viewing, outdoor music venues and theaters, Fourth of July fests, and sunset locales. Celebrities weigh in to point to their favorite spots. Most locations get a full page, some get two, and all receive National Geographic’s stellar photography treatment. Four Seasons of Travel won’t be leaving your living room (it weighs five pounds), but it will get you off the couch and on the road, no matter the weather.
Ears of Steel: The Real Man’s Guide to Walt Disney World
The Intrepid Traveler
Softcover $14.95 (256pp)
Onward to forty-seven square miles in swampy central Florida called Walt Disney World. Yes, the TV ads tend to highlight pink princesses and cotton candy castles, but author and aficionado Bart Scott makes a convincing argument that WDW is a real challenge, in a manly way, for men. After all, it was built by two guys: Walt Disney and his only son, Mickey.
Ears of Steel: The Real Man’s Guide to Walt Disney World begins with some rules of the road: No. 1 is stay on the property. In other words, don’t be a tourist at the greatest show on Earth. (Besides, it’s easier to get home after drinking all day.) Rule No. 2 is don’t obsess about the money. Look at it this way: real men don’t need to go to Vegas or Paris or the beach on vacation, since Walt Disney World has the best parts of all those places. Rule No. 3 is don’t spit. ‘Nough said.
Some highlights include Drinking Around the World at Epcot, what to eat (besides turkey legs), where to find bathrooms, what to miss if you’re traveling without missies, where to watch sports TV, and Top Ten Scariest Rides. (Snow White’s Scary Adventure would have been at the bottom. Alas, it is no more.) You’ll also get lots of scuttlebutt about what’s coming, what’s going, what was built when and by whom—enough to make you a real he-man know-it-all. Ears of Steel is perfectly acceptable reading for the female persuasion as well.
Not the MET: Exploring the Smalelr Museums of Manhattan
Softcover $19.95 (171pp)
Fifty million people visited Manhattan last year, and those who put a museum on their itinerary probably chose the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Janet Halpern and Harvey Applebaum have nothing against the Met, but they’d like you to know about the amazing variety of smaller holdings scattered around town.
While there are plenty of snapshot guides around, the authors came up with an interesting way to present the flavor of the chosen museums: they visited each one and wrote about what was currently on exhibit. Today’s visitor will, of course, find something different, but the two-page descriptions, with photos, indicate what to expect from the architecture, special exhibits, and permanent collections. Personal favorites include the Fraunces Tavern Museum, where George Washington held a farewell dinner for his generals after the Revolutionary War, and the nearby New York City Police Museum with its collection of weird weapons and mugshots—both are good choices for families visiting the Wall Street area. Farther north is the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, part of the US National Park system. And after a long walk to midtown, what better than a garden retreat at the Instituto Cervantes on East 49th Street? There’s something for everyone in this very packable book.
The Little Book of Japan
Hardcover $16.95 (192pp)
Guidebooks are well and fine, certainly a “must” for travelers, along with good walking shoes. But sometimes we crave the experience without the airports, foreign language, and sore heels. The Little Book of Japan provides an armchair cultural, spiritual, and monumental tour of the Land of the Rising Sun from a mostly traditional perspective.
The Buddhism-inspired concepts of impermanence and the importance of making the most out of every moment permeate the traditions of Japan, from cherry-blossom viewing to tea preparation, calligraphy, flower arranging, and lunch boxes. Short but detailed essays accompany sumptuous photo spreads on these and many other topics, arranged under the four major headings of Cultural Icons, Traditions, Places, and Spiritual Life. Having lived in Japan for nearly thirty years, the observations of the author and photographer are intimate, affectionate, and fully in tune with the “ephemeral nature of life.” The Little Book of Japan is an excellent small gift for both travelers and homebodies.
Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Adventures
Alistair Humphreys, contributor
Softcover $22.99 (352pp)
Does the world’s tallest bungee jump sound like adventure? How about drag racing in Los Angeles or swimming with sharks Down Under? Too crazy? Not crazy enough? Then imagine sand-boarding in Namibia, a wife-carrying race in Finland, jousting in Wisconsin, a foot race in Wales—twenty-two miles against a horse. Bring it on.
These escapades plus 994 more await extreme travelers with extreme dreams. Some of them take deep pockets. You’ll need a sponsor if you want to compete in the Patagonian Expedition Race—eleven days of climbing, kayaking, and biking—but that’s nothing to the $50k you’d drop for an Everest ascent (so yesterday). A decent stash of daring-do is useful as well: the Copper Canyon railway in Mexico may have spectacular views, but it also has kidnappings and decapitations. Ultimate Border Crossings gets its own section; Somaliland anyone?
Despair not, ye faint of heart. There are many, many adventures that only require some joie de vivre. London offers a footrace through forty-two underground stations. If that’s not enough, there’s another race up the stairs at Tower 42. So much to do, so little time. At least take the time to peruse the great ideas here. The book is the perfect gift for nephews who show up for the holidays in latex and neoprene.