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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

October 5, 2006:

The Norway Way

National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Andrew Nelson dropped into Jessie's office last week with the summer issue of Nordic Reach magazine, folded open to a small item near the back called "Dos and don'ts for an American visiting Norway." We were fascinated, though by the end we didn't really know what we were supposed to think, about Norwegians or their opinions of Americans. So, we're posting some choice excerpts. Interpret as you like.

Do:

"Try not to walk on your toes, and if you're a woman: Walk like a man."

"Know when to use a backpack and when not to. If in doubt: Don't… The only absolutely safe time to wear one is (a) if you're going on a hiking trip in the mountains or (b) if you're a kid on your way to school."

"Engage in small talk and give compliments. Most Norwegians don't know how to."

Don't:

"Talk loud or ask for the closest McDonald's."

"Smile too much in public or look passing people in the eye."

"Make a pass at someone in your local store, coffee shop or at the gas station."


IT Travels with Katie Howell

Despite the wind and water scars, the ongoing lack of housing, and generally somber atmosphere in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina's devastating effects on the region, editorial intern Katie Howell tells us that her summer in the Crescent City was surprisingly positive. Just over a year after the tragedy, she shares some of her favorite things to do in this city that's slowly pulling itself back together:

"New Orleans has always been welcoming to tourists and new residents, and the aftereffects of a major natural disaster didn't stop the city from showing me a good time. This is a city of details, and a perfect day can be spent absorbing them by biking along the levee or strolling down the side streets of the French Quarter. Many times, I stumbled upon a back-alley bookstore or an antiques shop and would get lost for hours in the history and culture.

"By far the most moving experience I had was driving through the Lower Ninth Ward and seeing piles of rubble, bathtubs on rooftops, and cars wrapped around trees almost a year after the storm. Despite all the devastation, there was always someone sorting through the debris or hauling off chunks of sheetrock, bringing a sense that life goes on in an area that has lost so much.

"With so many images and stories of the devastation all over the media, it's almost revolting to think about looking at even more of these images, but there's nothing quite so humbling as viewing the Hurricane Katrina photos at the Louisiana State Museum and then walking out the front door of the museum to see the rebuilding efforts in action.

"On a cheerier note, New Orleanians continue to be fiercely proud of their amazing food—rightfully so. The Bon Ton Café (401 Magazine St., +1 504 524 3386) in the Central Business District offers delightful Louisiana food and is one of my favorite restaurants in the Big Easy. Lunchtime is always crowded, so I'd try to go early to beat the business-crowd rush. And the bread pudding is arguably the best in New Orleans. Another favorite, Port of Call on the eastern edge of the French Quarter, has a somewhat dingy appearance, but serves the best hamburgers in town.

"My favorite New Orleans activity also turned out to be a great way to escape the hubbub of the French Quarter and downtown. The Canal Street Ferry takes cars and pedestrians across the river to Algiers Point and the views of New Orleans' skyline from the ferry platform are well worth the $1-per-car fee. Walking along the quiet streets of Algiers Point, one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, I saw picturesque turn-of-the-last-century shotgun houses and quaint shops, and discovered my favorite bar in the Big Easy, The Crown & Anchor, a neighborhood pub great for meeting colorful characters and enjoying a round of darts and a Pimm's Cup.

"Everyone knows that New Orleans is a drinking town, but the sights (and smells) of Bourbon Street weren't exactly my cup of tea, so I decided to try out some other watering holes. The Bulldog in Uptown on Magazine Street offers more than 100 different beers and has been voted the best place to drink beer in New Orleans. I liked to go on Wednesdays for 'Pint Night' where you keep the glass with any draught beer purchase: instant souvenirs! Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar in the Warehouse District is a great place to grab dinner or a drink—like the Shark Attack, a rum-and-lemonade concoction that comes with fun plastic toys and a live-action demonstration. The Voodoo Two in the CBD is a low-key establishment with friendly bartenders and a fun atmosphere, where I almost always heard some classic Fats Domino playing on the jukebox. And I always had a blast at live music venues like Le Bon Temps Roule (4801 Magazine St., +1 504 895 8117) and Maple Leaf (8316 Oak St., +1 504 866 9359).

"New Orleans is well on her way to recovery and autumn is the perfect time to visit. Not only are there events like the Voodoo Music Experience Festival, Art for Art's Sake, and the Louisiana Swamp Festival, but the weather is considerably more pleasant than when I was last there in June, July, and August."



From October 3, 2006:

Wee Travel

Traveling with a baby just got easier. Actually, that's not true. It's just that we offspring-free bloggers only recently learned about a service to help those traveling with babies, and we think it's cool, even if it's only news to us. The service? Baby equipment rentals.

Our introduction to this concept came in the form of a press release from Wee Travel. This Canadian company rents strollers, car seats, high chairs and other infant accoutrements to out-of-towners in Vancouver and Toronto so they don't have to worry about transporting all of their parental paraphernalia as well as their still-small progeny.

"What a neat new idea!" we thought. And googled "baby equipment rental." Which promptly turned up almost 15,000 sites. So, we're a little behind the times—turns out even Wee Travel is entering its terrible twos. But we figured if we (travel magazine employees, after all) hadn't heard the news, others probably hadn't either.

So here's the scoop. Companies across the U.S. and around the world allow you to rent everything from a high-tech baby pack to a "Prince Lionheart beach cabana" to keep your little ones happy while you're away without causing you to suffer on the way there.

What we want to know is, do you have to be a parent? IT's got its eyes on a little red wagon for our next visit to Orlando.


Chilling in the Catskills

National Geographic Traveler senior researcher and inveterate family traveler Marilyn Terrell took her brood for one last summer fling to a rented house in the Catskills last month. Here's her report:

"The key was under the mat, as the owner had promised. But what lay on the other side of the door? Would it be another knick-knack-strewn, mosquito-infested craigslist disaster, like the last time? My family would never forgive me if I managed to screw this up twice in one summer. The last thing the owner had said to me on the phone was 'Keep on truckin.' What did he mean by that? Cautiously, I turned the key in the lock and opened the door.

"I needn't have worried. This craigslist rental house near the town of Margaretville, New York, in the Catskill Mountains was everything the other house wasn't: bright, open, airy, uncluttered, clean, well-equipped (even Wi-Fi), with plenty of room for our five kids, one of their friends, and our two dogs. On the kitchen wall hung a casual portrait of a youthful Janis Joplin, taken backstage at nearby Woodstock—I guess that explained the truckin' reference.

"Outside lay 20 acres (8 hectares) of hemlock forest to explore, a stream, a swimming pond with a dock, a rope swing, and lots of frogs. There were frog nets, an inflatable boat and rafts, and a small beach of perfectly shaped skipping stones. Plus an outdoor ping-pong table, a rope hammock between two trees, raspberry bushes with tiny ripe berries, and a fire pit with plenty of firewood. If our kids couldn't make fun out of this, my husband and I would hand in our parent licenses.

"The best part was not having to pack up the car every morning and drive the kids somewhere. If you were hungry or got tired of the water or needed a nap, you could just walk in the house, unlike our usual beach vacations which require packing everything you might conceivably want for the day or lining up at the overpriced snack bar, then at the end packing everything up and trudging back, sandy and tired and grumpy and sunburned.

"The water in the pond was spring-fed and chilly, but the kids kept the fire pit stoked so they could shiver by the flames when they got out of the pond. Sully and Pearl (the dogs) were greatly intrigued by frogs. There were half a dozen excellent places to read a book: in the sun or shade, by the waterfall or in the hammock, on the deck or on the grass, or floating in the inflatable boat.

"Sitting around the fire pit at night, listening to the waterfall, watching shooting stars, sucking out the insides of charred marshmallows, life seemed just about perfect. So to liven things up, we went to the Delaware County Fair and watched the demolition derby.

"One day, my daughter Lucy and I hiked with Sully to Giant Ledge on Slide Mountain. There was a magnificent view at the top, and a coyote crossing the road at the bottom. Another day we drove to Woodstock to see my brother-in-law's wildlife and landscape paintings in a gallery, and the kids smirked at the graying hippies dancing in the tourist-jammed streets. Another day, the boys went off to play paintball. And, despite the warning in a famous New Yorker cartoon to 'get those Adirondack chairs out of the Poconos!' we enjoyed the non-native chairs on our Catskills lawn.

"While the kids slept late in the mornings, my husband and I explored the deserted mountain roads, which are apparently loaded with skiers in winter. We discovered small towns with tall trees lining the main streets, Greek-revival houses in various states of restoration, and fresh corn for sale. The entire town of Roxbury is listed on the National Historic Register and has earned a Preserve America designation from the White House.

"We marveled at how quiet and undeveloped this Catskills region is, and how pristine the forests, despite being so close to New York City. As it turns out, the teeming metropolis 100 miles away is the key to this area's preservation. Recognizing the importance of drinking water for their millions of thirsty inhabitants, New York's city fathers grabbed land in the Catskills in the early 1900s, dammed some rivers, submerged some towns, built aqueducts and created reservoirs for what I've always considered the best-tasting city water in the world. Now I know where it comes from.
To preserve the quality of its naturally filtered water, New York banned development around the reservoirs, designating the Catskill Forest Preserve in Catskill Park 'forever wild.' After seeing an actual live mink loping across the road that borders the Pepacton Reservoir, I figure the 'wild' designation wasn't just a PR gimmick.

"But local conservationists are quaking in their hiking boots about a proposed enlargement of the state-owned ski area, Belleayre Resort, which would add a golf course and lots of condos to this wilderness area. The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development in Arkville hopes it doesn't go ahead as planned. The minks do too."


E-mail your feedback and tips to InsideTraveler@ngs.org.

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Emily King is Traveler's assistant to the editor. Jessie Johnston is a researcher at the magazine. They promise to be witty again next week.


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