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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

March 8, 2007:

Party in Paree

After returning from his winter holiday in London and Paris, National Geographic Traveler's art director, Jerry Sealy, couldn't stop telling his colleagues about a peculiar experience he had in the City of Light. After some prodding, IT convinced him to share the moment with you:  

"The night my friend Kathryn and I arrived in Paris, we planned to eat at Fish La Boissonerie, a new restaurant on the Left Bank. But new friends (some Americans we met on the RER train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris) invited us to join them at Jim's Dinner Club. Dinner club? It sounded warm and cozy. I pictured a table of twelve, a crackling fire, quiet conversation, classic French cuisine…and very good wine.

"'Call Jim at +33 (0)1 4327 1767,' said our new friend. 'He'll give you the details. You'll have fun and it's only about 25 euros ($33) a head. See you there?'  How could we pass up the adventure?  

"After a 30-minute Metro ride, we arrived at the given time—8 p.m. sharp—and were greeted by our host Jim at the door, along with the party of 60 (not 12) in full swing. As we soon learned, Jim (an American) has been hosting these parties each Sunday for the past 30 years, here at his home in the far reaches of the 14th arrondissement."

"As the night went on, we were impressed by Jim's uncanny ability to remember everyone, specifically their names; we watched him introduce all the guests to one another. In an eclectic apartment filled with books, theater posters, and slightly worn upholstery, Jim had gathered an equally eclectic group of people to match: old and young, liberal and conservative, gay and straight, black and white and Asian, professors, scientists, artists, backpackers, and actors. We all mingled and chatted, trying to balance a delicious (yet simple) plate of noodles—topped with whitefish and leeks—with our two glasses of wine: one white, the other red (from a box). The ex-pats bemoaned maddening French bureaucracies. A couple debated about where the 'real' Paris neighborhoods were these days. A man from England shyly admitted he had just bought a French beret that day. And Kathryn and I just took it all in."

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Yoga + Reggae = Yoggae?

Our staff yogi, assistant online editor Mary Beth LaRue, ditched her HTML duties and D.C.'s cold weather for a week of downward dog at the Negril Yoga Centre on the west coast of Jamaica. And has she ever got tips (and pictures—click the links!) for you:

"Stay cheaply—Our accommodations at the yoga center were modest, but it didn't matter, because we were across the street from a beautiful stretch of white sand beach, reggae joints, and jerk chicken stands. All-inclusive resorts offer a lot for one price, but they also leave you little incentive to leave the premises, a must if you are in Negril.

"Make small talk—Americans are much more reserved than Jamaicans, but something about the warm sun and miles of beach will relax you enough to talk to just about anyone. Whether I was learning to cliff-jump from a local named Andrew, figuring out what the best tropical drink concoction would be, or just trying to find an ATM, I felt embraced by the Jamaican people. Ask questions and for advice; most locals would much rather see you smiling than with your head buried in a guidebook.

"Listen to live music—There is so much music on the beach, you can literally step out of your door and just follow the sound. Check out The Jungle or Alfred's Ocean Palace for live performances any night of the week.

"Try ackee—I've always been a lover of plantains and papaya, but on this trip I developed a passion for ackee, a Jamaican fruit that looks like scrambled eggs when cooked. Pair it with a glass of beet juice, and you can make up in advance for those fruity cocktails you'll enjoy on the beach."

"Swim in a waterfall—My yogi tribe took off for a day-trip to YS Falls, nestled in the hills on the southern coast of Jamaica. Complete with a zipline, very cold swimming areas, a gift shop, and a restaurant, the place was welcoming to tourists without being hokey. And, though I loved swimming under the waterfall (or at least trying to—the water pressure was pretty hard to swim into), I really enjoyed the snapshots of Jamaican culture during my drive from western Negril to southern Jamaica. Not in Negril? Check out Dunn's River Falls or Somerset Falls.

"Try yoga—Of course I'm going to say that, but if you're not into yoga already or aren't interested in trying, at least connect with your surroundings in a physical way, whether by snorkeling over a coral reef, jumping off of a cliff, or going for a walk along the beach.

"Relax—Though my flight home was due to leave at 12:30 p.m., the taxi didn't arrive at the yoga center (an hour and a half from the airport) until 9:30. 'Am I going to be late?' I asked, panicked. 'Ah, relax,' said Patrick, 'You Americans move so fast.' I tried to, but as we continued to stop and pick up more passengers, I was getting nervous. At 11:45 we pulled into Montego Bay's airport, and I rushed to the ticket counter. 'Am I going to miss my flight?' I asked the man at the counter. Once again, I was told to relax. 'No, mon,' he said, smiling. He was right. I made it through Immigration and to the gate with ten minutes to spare. What was the worst that could've happened? Another day in Jamaica?"

Want more? Check out our "Insider's Jamaica" from the March 2005 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

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From March 6, 2007:

You Really Like Us!

If we could travel back in time to Oscar night, we would admonish our past selves for being so critical of people's acceptance speeches. As the recipients of the first-ever Best Travel Blog award from the Travvies, we now completely understand how hard it is to express gratitude in an articulate, brief, sincere, and non-tedious manner. (Especially since even if you do get it right, like Sally Field in 1985, you'll still be misquoted.)

Thanks are due, however, so we'll do our best and hope you won't reach for the remote: Thank you, thank you, thank you! We couldn't have done it without the support of all our readers, both old hands and those of you who discovered us because we were nominated. We hope you'll all keep reading (and telling friends, family, and strangers on the street).

We also want to offer our congratulations to all the finalists, against whom it was an honor to compete, and to the winners in all the other categories: Exposed Planet for Best Photography on a Travel Blog, The Cranky Flier for Best Single-Author Travel Blog and Informative/Practical Travel Blog, our friends The Lost Girls for Best Group-Written Travel Blog, and NewYorkology (a regular IT read) for Best Destination Blog. We'd also like to cordially invite all of the winners to contribute guest posts to future editions of IT. Stay tuned for their sure-to-be-awesome contributions.

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Freaky Food Fest

IT's eaten fried rattlesnake and sautéed fiddleheads, but we must admit, freelance travel writer Katie Nerenberg's Fear Factor-esque post has our stomach turning:  

"On a road trip up the west coast of New Zealand's South Island last March, I became a bit obsessed with one particular entry in Let's Go New Zealand: 'If it crawls, it's dinner at the phenomenally popular Wildfoods Festival, during the second weekend in March. Opossum, kangaroo, and grasshopper are among the tamer entrees. Book accommodations at least six months ahead.' It was six days before, but no problem—we were driving a 1991 Nissan Vanette with a double bed in the back.

"Hokitika, normally a quaint town with wrinkled old men on rockers outside their clapboard antique stores, was bursting at the seams with over 20,000 people filing in for the annual celebration of the West Coast's local culture: crazy cuisine, cold Monteith's beer, and lively music. Admission is about $21 U.S. ($17.50 if you buy in advance), though once inside the gates, I coughed up a few bucks at each stand thanks to my try-anything-once attitude. I slurped down shots of moonshine and soup made with deer genitals, and averted my own eyes as I gobbled up crocodile (it tastes like chicken!), 'sushi' with live worms, and huhu grubs

"Even at the end of the day (when the festival was technically over), the revelry didn't stop: The majority of Hokitika's guests stuck around to show their wild sides, carousing through the streets, cheering and dangling off balconies—New Zealand's own little Bourbon Street. Many had come in groups, brandishing matching homemade T-shirts, animal tails or, like one creative team of 20-something guys, bee costumes complete with tiny yellow tutus." 

This year's festival falls on this Saturday, March 10. Who's ready for pig's eye mac'n'cheese?

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Emily King,
Traveler's assistant to the editor, and researcher Jessie Johnston are at a loss for words, for once.

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