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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

December 14, 2006:

Time Flies

As we mentioned last week, some of us (Jessie) have been spending an unpleasant amount of time in airports lately. We also promised to share her tale of airport woe this week, but she's not quite up to reliving the trauma through writing just yet, so we're going to tide you over with a useful tool to help you spend as little time in airports as you possibly can.

A recent Lifehacker post alerted us to a not-so-new but new-to-us website. The TSA's Security Checkpoint Wait Times page allows you to search by U.S. airport and day of the week for average and maximum security line wait times based on historical data. It's important to note that the wait times are only historical averages and don't reflect specific dates, so they're probably useless on major travel days (Wednesday before Thanksgiving anyone?) or in other situations that cause airport crowding (bad weather, security scares). It also doesn't tell you how long you may have to wait to check in with your airline (which, in our soon-to-be-shared experience, can be disastrous).

Still, if your airport doesn't provide real-time wait information (check, some do), the TSA's database, in combination with the FAA's Flight Delay Information service and general knowledge of the weather, current events, and important dates, should help you determine whether you really do need to get to the airport 3 hours and 12 minutes early. You probably don't.

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Turkey Trot: Trekking Through Central Anatolia

IT loves off-the-beaten-path treasures, especially when they come to us from English-teaching, novel-writing, Turkey-trotting dispatchers like Michael Lukas. Here, he sends up some tips from his apartment in Ankara, Turkey:

"When the Fulbright Commission told me that I was going to be placed for a year in Ankara, I can't say I was very excited. A utilitarian and mostly concrete city of nearly four million—nearly half of them bureaucrats—Turkey's capital (for the last 83 years) is routinely the butt of travel guides' unkind jokes. But although Ankara pales in comparison to Turkey's major tourist sites—Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Mediterranean coast—it is the perfect trampoline for exploring Central Anatolia, an untrampled region brimming with vineyards, thermal baths, and stunningly well-preserved Ottoman houses.

"There are three tourist attractions in Ankara proper that actually interested me: the Byzantine Ankara Citadel, the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, and Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and a man who commands a level of respect among Turks somewhere between George Washington and Kim Jong Il among their subjects. (It's against the law in Turkey to defame the memory of Ataturk, so don't make any jokes about him if you visit the mausoleum.) After checking these three attractions off my list, I started to explore the rest of Central Anatolia.

"My first foray was to Kalecik, a small agricultural town famous for its vineyards. After some hitchhiking and an hour-and-a-half bus ride through rolling hills and farmland, my friend Mary and I found our way to Chateau Kalecik, a medium-sized vineyard started in 1998 by French and Turkish investors. Kalecik is no Napa Valley. The vineyard, while picturesque in and of itself, is situated close to a power plant. And the staff there seemed somewhat taken aback when we said we had come from Ankara for a wine tasting. But the manager, exhibiting the famous Turkish hospitality, was more than happy to show us around. After pouring us six healthy glasses of wine, touring us around the property, and selling us a bottle of what later turned out to be a really good red, the director said he had to get back to work. But before he did, he put in a call to his friend and arranged for us to be taken to the second best restaurant in town (the best was undergoing renovation). The friend, saying we were his guests, insisted on paying.

"Since I'm always a sucker for hot springs, my next trip was to Patalya Thermal Resort, a four-star hotel and day spa buried deep in the middle of a national park. Just outside the town of Kizilcahamam, Patalya is a sprawling bright orange complex with amenities that would satisfy even the most discerning spa connoisseur. Well, maybe not the most discerning spa connoisseur, but I was certainly happy. For about $30, I got access to the interconnected indoor and outdoor hot pools, a sauna, and a Turkish bath. Massage and aromatherapy were extra. I did not partake; I couldn't tear myself away from the outdoor pool, an Olympic-sizer surrounded on three sides by pine forest. If you have never floated on your back, gazing at pine crowns while a cool breeze blows over your knees, you haven't lived.

"The next weekend, rejuvenated from the spa treatment, I visited a charming little town called Beypazari, which is very popular with Turks, but virtually unknown to foreign tourists. Winding through the ancient cobblestone streets, past old Ottoman houses and farmers selling fresh spices and handmade pasta, I felt for a moment that I had stepped back into some antique land. Then I spotted a satellite dish. Beypazari, as I soon learned, is famous for a number of products. Not only does it have some well-preserved Ottoman houses and delicious homemade pasta, it's known also for its fine silverwork, mineral water, carrot-flavored Turkish delights, carrot-flavored ice cream, tablecloths, and guvech, a rice and meat and/or bean dish baked in a clay pot. Over the course of the day I partook in all of what justifiably makes Beypazari famous, shopping its narrow, windy streets and eating dinner in a recently restored Ottoman house."

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From December 12, 2006:

Royal Flush: The World's Best Bathrooms

Since we haven't given you a potty post  for months (gasp!), IT welcomes Andy Isaacson's  report on the world's best and worst toilets

"There are certain elements of travel that can be properly plotted and planned for (an aisle seat, ocean-view room) and those that cannot (good restaurant service, sunny weather). Unfortunately, the time and place of nature's call would fall into the latter category—making the Bathroom Diaries, a website that reviews over 8,000 of the world's public toilets, not the most practical travel resource. Nevertheless, the site is the world's most complete review on the sanitization, safety, and aesthetics of loos/WCs/little-boys-and-girls-rooms from Arkansas to Zimbabwe. What's more, the database—as yet unavailable in Zagat paperback form—can be downloaded to a cell phone, via Vindigo.

"Travelers heading to McMurdo Station, Antarctica may find comfort that the toilet bowl in Movement Control Center, Building 140 (name unrelated to this discussion), steams with warm water in winter months. Other bathrooms receive less glowing reviews: if you find yourself walking by Modern Green Day and Night Bar on Latema Road  in Nairobi, it's advisable to hold it in. Posts one reviewer: 'Virtually awash in human effluvia.... Quite simply, the most disgusting toilets I've ever had the misfortune to encounter.' The Shoji Tabuchi Theater in Branson, Missouri, however, merits a visit regardless of urgency. Bathroom Diaries readers gave its women's room—with a fountain, stained glass, live orchids, and onyx pedestals—a 'Golden Plunger'  for World's Best Bathroom."

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The Maine Attraction

Feel like winter just crept up on you? Not quite ready for the holidays? Herewith, IT provides the ultimate antidote to light-festival-and-Christmas-market overload, a description of photo editor Linda Meyerriecks's summer vacation in Maine:

"We rented a house on Rackliff Island not far from Rockland, in the middle of Wyeth country. One of our favorite museums in Rockland, the Farnsworth, houses much of the Wyeth family's famous artwork, and we try to visit every time we're in Maine. Last summer, though, we were surprised and delighted to find Victoria Wyeth giving a tour of her uncle Jamie's paintings when we arrived. Victoria, who leads tours at the Farnsworth during July and August, provided a whimsical look into her uncle's work, their family's life in Maine, and Monhegan Island, where Jamie spent a lot of his time painting.  We were able to follow the local children growing up in his paintings; the boy with the Dead Cat Museum was especially intriguing. 

"We visited the museum after a day of hiking on Monhegan along the Whitehead Trail past the lighthouse and school to see the 160-foot cliffs on the ocean side. We sat on huge boulders eating cod tacos from the Hot Fat roadside stand and watched a young boy intensely reading a book laid open on an old wooden wagon. Several painters were out that day, and one was painting the same red building that Jamie Wyeth caught in one of his Monhegan paintings. The passenger ferry ride—accompanied by fresh sea breezes, the sounds made by seals sunning themselves on rocks, and the laughter of local kids jumping off the ferry dock—was a highlight of visiting Monhegan. The captain delicately maneuvered the boat around the lobster buoys in between the private islands of both Andrew and James Wyeth.

"Top places to actually eat lobster are Miller's Lobster, the Dip Net, and Conte's on the working waterfront in Rockland, where I could have sworn the sea captains of yore still hang out. Conte's daily menu is written on a very long scroll of white paper that hangs at the door as you enter, so you order before you go to your table.

"Next time we return I want to stay at the Island Inn, where we rocked on the porch overlooking the wharf while everyone waited for the return ferry back to Port Clyde (where N.C. Wyeth first brought his family to live in the early 1900s) on the mainland."

Too bad the Dead Cat Museum doesn't exist anymore. IT would come along.

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While she hates Delta's cheese spread, Emily King, Traveler's assistant to the editor, loves the Biscoff cookies served on their flights. Researcher Jessie Johnston wishes airlines would stop giving vegetarians margarine for their rolls. "We eat butter!"

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