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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

November 30, 2006:

Savor IT

IT's been known to plan entire vacations around food. In fact, for your bloggers, restaurants tend to be paramount to all else. Which is why we're rather ecstatic to share IT's newest find: Savory Cities. So far, the company only has two city sites—Savory New York and Savory San Francisco—but we love their idea, their utility, and best of all, their great videos. The two sites, built as wikis, offer detailed information about popular restaurants in each city—from the basics (address, cuisine, price) to the specifics (occupancy, noise levels, house specialties). However, their cool drool-inducing feature is their video footage, one- to two-minute documentaries usually featuring an interview with the restaurant's chef or owner (think: Thomas Keller), a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen (think: stainless-steel paradise), pictures of the various entrees (think: salivation), and a tour of the dining room (think: get me there now!). If you can't already tell, we love these sites, so much so that we've dropped more than an hour this week watching videos of Hayes Street Grill, L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Tocqueville, Pearl Oyster Bar, and more. Our one complaint? You can't sort by price. IT likes to eat, but we can't always (er, ever?) splurge at The French Laundry.

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Where IT's @

Chief researcher Marilyn Terrell tickles our trivia centers this week with a coda to her Croatian adventure:

"I was trying to send Goran this photo I took of him on my trip to Croatia, but when I typed what I thought he had dictated to me, my email kept bouncing back. I called him again and he repeated the same thing, some email address involving the word 'monkey.' When I sounded confused, he stopped and consulted a friend. When he came back, he said, 'At. You say "at." We say "monkey."' Which is when it dawned on me: 'monkey' is Croatian for '@'.

"After I stopped laughing, I started thinking. How many other names are there in the world for the 'at' sign? Obviously, not everyone calls it 'at.' So I did a little research and found some interesting articles about the origins of @, which may have been invented by weary sixth-century monks as a shorthand version of the Latin 'ad' meaning 'at,' 'to' or 'toward' (Unrelated question: Did monks get carpal tunnel syndrome?)

"In computer usage, it was Ray Tomlinson who sent the first e-mail in 1971, and he picked the @ to separate the user name from the host name, as a way of saying this message is from so-and-so who is at such-and-such a computer.

"Around the world, Danes call the symbol snabel meaning 'elephant's trunk.' The Dutch say 'ape's tail.' The Greeks call it 'little duck.' In Hebrew it's 'strudel.' Hungarians say 'worm' or 'maggot.' Italians call it 'snail.' In Taiwan, it's 'little mouse.' Russians say 'little dog.' In Turkey they call it 'ear.' In addition to 'monkey,' Croatians also sometimes call it ludo, meaning 'crazy.'"

And IT is crazy grateful for Marilyn's research into this topic. It's a relief to know we'll be able to speak geek (at least a little) throughout our worldly travels.

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From November 28, 2006:

Rooms with a Muse: Traveler Inspires a Hotel

IT was intrigued to read a recent Advertising Age article (thanks to a tip from Gawker) about a California hotelier who bases the concepts for his boutique properties on magazines. We moved from intrigue to infatuation when we learned that Joie de Vivre Hospitality's holdings include a hotel inspired by National Geographic Traveler. San Francisco's Hotel Carlton was designed to exhibit five qualities CEO Chip Conley and his staff attribute to our publication: "enchanting, international, cheerful, bohemian, eclectic." (We are, aren't we?)

We bloggers think they did a pretty good job, and wonder whether Conley might be willing to send his designers over to make
Jessie's office look a little more like this, or maybe upgrade our conference room. Other JDV properties include the Rolling Stone-styled Phoenix Hotel, the Wired-themed Hotel Avante and the Dwell/Real Simple love child Hotel Vitale.

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Frightening Facts

It takes a certain kind of über-nerd to be a researcher at National Geographic Traveler—one who takes disproportionate pleasure in determining which of the world's volcanoes are currently the most active, figuring out the Assamese name for the elephant-apple tree, and speaking in stilted Spanish with Andalusian monks. As we've already shared with you, Marilyn Terrell is one such person. Jessie Johnston is another.

In addition to her blogging duties, Jessie is responsible for fact-checking articles that get published in Traveler magazine. In the current issue, she had the daunting task of checking the World Heritage Destination Scorecard, which included not-always-favorable descriptions of 94 separate destinations. In the process of tracking down some of the more cantankerous facts, she had some geeked-out fun. (Be sure to click the hyperlinks to see what she's talking about):

"As a general rule, checking negative descriptions is harder than positive ones. While I always keep a grain of salt on hand when asking a hotel if their rooms are in fact tastefully decorated, I at least feel confident that I'll get a response. It's a little harder to check something like whether Angkor really does have a 'potentially catastrophic' lack of sewage treatment. The likelihood that someone over there will provide me with accurate negative information is pretty slim. So, I have to resort to other means. With this article, I was so struck by some of the online images I used for my research that I wanted to share them with readers.

"I came across the first while checking our description of Krakow's historic center: '…billboards on the main square. Horrid!' I couldn't very well call up the Krakow tourism office, ask 'do you have horrid billboards in your main square?', and expect an honest answer. Luckily, I didn't have to. The city graciously provided me with an answer, thanks to the panoramic photo of the square on its site. No sooner had I scrolled a half-inch to the left, but I saw just such a billboard, and a couple more inches of scrolling revealed one even more horrid. My work there was done.

"The most shocking discovery I made, though, was thanks to my good friend Google Earth. In the article, the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza were described as threatened by urban sprawl. Used to seeing the pyramids depicted as floating in a vast sea of desert, I wasn't quite sure where the sprawl would be coming from, but I needed to confirm its existence. I opened Google Earth, and quickly found Giza thanks to the stack of yellow rectangles depicting National Geographic featured content. I was so stunned by how close Cairo's suburbs are to these wonders of the world that I immediately called my colleagues in to see. First, I'd zoom in close on the pyramids, showing them as we typically imagine them. Next, I'd zoom out, inevitably provoking gasps, or at least exclamations. Not even Jonathan Tourtellot, our sustainability maven and the article's author, knew just how bad the situation was. I was glad to be checking this article in the age of the Internet, though hardly glad at what it was allowing me to confirm."

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Emily King, Traveler's assistant to the editor, wants to visit the Pyramids of Giza before they're just a suburb of Cairo. Researcher Jessie Johnston hopes to see Machu Picchu before it becomes an Angkor-style jungle gym.



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