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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

February 22, 2007:

And the Travvy Goes To …

… us, we hope! Yesterday IT was named a finalist in the Best Travel Blog category in the first ever Travvies, awards started by Mark Ashley at Upgrade: Travel Better to honor the best travel sites in the blogosphere. Oscars? What Oscars?

We're up against old faves Gridskipper and NewYorkology for the top honor, as well as Brave New Traveler and Girl Solo in Arabia, whom we'll start reading as soon as we finish writing this post. The Gridskips and NewYorkologists are each up for two awards, though, so if you're torn you can vote for them in those other categories (group-written and destination blog, respectively) without hurting us in the only competition that really counts. Being older and more well-established than little 10-month-old IT, those sites have a lot more potential voters, so if you love us (and we know you do), vote early, vote often (just kidding, one ballot per computer), and, most importantly, tell all your friends.

Also nominated are friends-of-IT The Lost Girls and Michael Simon, so feel free to share the love with them.

Voting ends at 6 p.m. central standard time on February 28, so don't delay!

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Anchorage Away!

IT asked former Traveler staffer Meghan Aftosmis (who currently works in PR) to ask her Alaskan colleagues for their favorite wintry things to do in Big Wild Life  (a.k.a. Anchorage) besides watching the start of the Iditarod or viewing the Northern Lights. Here's what she came up with:

"The Chugach Mountains tower over the Anchorage skyline and are hardly a secret. In winter, trailheads are accessible, views are unbelievable and options are limitless. Try the multi-purpose Powerline Pass trail from the Glen Alps Trailhead high above Anchorage. It leads to views of the city and the seemingly never-ending Chugach Range. Enjoy the trail and surroundings on Nordic skis or snowshoes.

"It's never too cold to go ice skating in the city's outdoor rink on Town Square with its beautifully colored and lit ice sculptures. Or try the ice on Westchester Lagoon, a pond known to attract local skaters. It also features warming barrels to keep frosty temperatures at bay.

"For downtown art and shopping, check out the Alaska Glass Gallery. Artist and owner Cynthia England often offers clinics so you can give glassblowing a try for yourself. Also stop into the Musk Ox Producer's Co-operative for some Quiviut —finely spun wool from the underbelly of the musk ox, which is finer and warmer than cashmere. And be sure to pick up an AK Starfish T-shirt at Skinny Raven, the best running store in town (also locally owned). Even if you're not going to buy coffee, a visit to Kobuk Coffee Company is a must-see for its general-store atmosphere, a holdover from its early days as a trading post.

"When you get hungry, Snow City Café is another must for breakfast. For lunch, stop by Lucky Wishbone for the best burgers and fried chicken in town. Or, for something a little more gourmet, try the Marx Brothers Café in the Anchorage Museum of History & Art—afterwards, view the museum's phenomenal pieces of Alaskan art. If you're in a hurry, pick up some locally roasted Kaladi Brothers coffee and gourmet meats, cheeses and pastries at the New Sagaya's Markets. Or go to the Panda Restaurant—for the past three years, USA Today has recognized it as one of the top ten Chinese restaurants in the nation.

"For dinner, stop by the warm and friendly Glacier Brewhouse and order the seafood jambalaya, the wild Alaska salmon, or the amazing free-range venison. Or try one of the newest restaurants in town, City Diner. Opened by two of the city's most well known chefs, the restaurant—appropriately named—serves back-to-basics comfort food. If you can't get a seat here (it's been busy since it opened), try the chefs' flagships, Kincaid Grill and Southside Bistro.

"Turn in for the night at the cozy Historic Anchorage Hotel. With only 26 rooms, it offers a personal touch and all the right amenities, including free wireless Internet and complimentary breakfast. Or, if you're up for a 40-minute drive—and some fabulous views—treat yourself to a night at the Alyeska Resort, where you can ski or tube all day, take respite in the new day spa, and sample Alaskan seafood at the Seven Glaciers restaurant. The best part? Sign up for a Northern Lights wake-up call before turning in and the hotel staff will call you if the sky lights up."

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From February 20, 2007:

Ahead of the Pack, Part 2

In our endless and disheartening attempt to become more efficient packers (Emily just returned from a weekend trip with 13 unworn items), IT has stumbled upon another website (thanks Gadling) that promises to perfect our packing practice. One Bag, like its name suggests, teaches its readers how to pack everything into one bag, regardless of destination or duration. Written by an expert packer—the guy's actually attended seminars on packing techniques—this exhaustive (and nerdy) niche site, sometimes laughable in its detail, is sure to teach you something useful. IT's favorite tips:

To avoid wrinkles and creases in clothing, bundle wrap your clothing—that is, start with a core (a pouch filled with socks and undergarments) and wrap each of piece of clothing around one another into a "bundle." (NB: Jessie's mother has been packing this way for year, much to her family's amusement.)

To speed up the process of drying wet clothing (and you will have to do laundry since you'll have such little clothing with you), roll wet clothes in a towel, wring the towel tightly, then drape them over a Flexoline clothes line.

To quickly boil water for your morning tea or soft-boiled egg, pack a small immersion heater

And, to give yourself more space and/or lighten your load, don't use a suitcase with wheels—they typically weigh 55 percent more and hold 50 percent less. Instead, invest in one of these, with the padded hip belt. Hot.

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Return of the Reader Roundup

IT loves our readers. But lately we've been so caught up sharing our own discoveries with you that we haven't published any of their (your) travel insights on the blog. But there's no time like the present, so, without further ado, a long overdue reader roundup:

Elizabeth Chabot of Canaan, New Hampshire, wrote to tell us about her trip to Italy, during which she stayed in a pair of hotels recommended in our April 2002 issue: "Fortunately we only booked one night at the Hotel Romae. The rooms were clean and spacious, but there were no other amenities. It was particularly hot when we stayed there, but the air conditioning had been turned off for the season. The windows (which we had to leave open because of the heat) faced a busy and loud street; needless to say, it was a sleepless night. I consoled myself by thinking about the wonderful breakfast and real orange juice mentioned in your article. Was I ever in for a surprise. The juice was the worst I had anywhere in Italy, and the rest of the breakfast was equally disappointing. The front desk attendants were friendly, but I didn't feel I could have approached them with any challenging needs. I would not recommend spending 150 euros a night on this hotel. The Hotel Lancelot, on the other hand, was everything your article promised and more. The desk staff was tremendously helpful and we got one of our best day-trip suggestions from their chef! The rooms, while small, were comfortable and quiet. The breakfast was ample and the small bar was relaxing with a lovely terrace and the best cappuccino we had in Italy. I would recommend Hotel Lancelot in a heartbeat."

Tom Blaisdell of Saratoga, California, wrote to share his experiences with the website National Park Reservations: "They state on the home page that they charge a 10 percent fee, but it is not obvious, and the site looks much like an official National Park Service site. I was told by the hotel that I booked through this site that they had had 'many problems' with National Park Reservations. A better idea is to go to the individual website of any lodge in or around a park yourself and make a reservation with no fee. And if you have a problem getting a reservation directly from a lodge, you can get a no fee reservation at" IT also suggests booking via fee-free Xanterra, the nation's largest national and state park concessioner.

Frank Lester of San Francisco, California, read "Speak Easy," Smart Traveler's review of various language translators, in the September 2006 issue and sent us another recommendation: "Point It is a pocket-sized 'traveller's language kit' containing 1,200 photos you can point at to communicate without words."

Paul and Renee Nostrand of Craryville, New York, both wrote independently in response to September's "Secrets of the Island" section on St. Martin to warn readers of some risks associated with travel there. Paul wrote: "Several years ago I was at the top of Pic Paradis, when a couple of young boys appeared out of nowhere, and took cash out of a fanny pack that was stuffed under the front seat. Granted, I should have known better than to leave it in the vehicle, but I was no farther than 30 yards [27 meters] from the vehicle and left it unattended for less than five minutes to take pictures. A co-worker of mine was on the island the same week, and told me that on Pic Paradis the very next day two different boys came out of the woods, held her and her husband up with a knife and broken bottle, and stole their cash and credit cards." Renee adds: "Unfortunately, the police were not much help—after talking with business owners and other locals we came away with the feeling that the police look the other way with regards to Pic Paradis. There also seems to be a problem with rental cars having items stolen from their trunks on the island. We were advised to put our belongings out of view in the trunk, but came to understand that a local crime ring owned a master key for the trunks. The island is beautiful, the food in Grand Case is out of this world as well as the pastries in the breakfast places. Unfortunately, it isn't one of the safest places."

And earlier this month, in response to our guest post by Parent Hacks editor Asha Dornfest, reader Dipu Patel-Junankar of Boston, Massachusetts, wrote to tell us about her own parent-oriented blog: "I have lived all over the globe: India, Africa, and now the U.S. Inspired by my travels and love for culture and language, I have started a blog to encourage parents to expose their kids to their world in all ways possible. Brio is for all parents who want to raise well-versed, well-traveled kids. What better way to teach tolerance than to travel?"

We love hearing from all of you, so please click the comments links (below each post) or the e-mail address at the bottom of the page. The more mail we get, the more often we publish reader roundups.

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Emily King,
Traveler's assistant to the editor, received her first ever Valentine's Day bouquet last week. Researcher Jessie Johnston helped pick it out.

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