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IT—Inside Traveler
By Jessie Johnston and Emily King

March 15, 2007:

In the Navy: A Night on the New Jersey

Need a hotel in Philly? "Try a decommissioned warship in New Jersey," suggests senior editor Norie Quintos, who recently returned from a trip with her kids. She explains:

"I never was a Girl Scout. Not much of a joiner, I guess, or maybe the cookie quota demanded too much capitalist enterprise. However, a part of me always envied the gals in green who got to go on field trips and earn those merit badges. Well, I sort of got my wish last weekend, when I, my two tween-aged sons, and about a dozen scouting troops boarded the permanently docked
Battleship New Jersey (in Camden, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia) for an overnight encampment. After seeing service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other sundry international battles, the massive warship—eventually made obsolete by smaller, nimbler vessels—retired and became a floating museum. Think of it as a cruise, but without the chocolates on the pillow, yoga on the pool deck, or midnight buffet.

"Walking up the gangway on a frigid Friday evening, sleeping bags in hand, we were met by volunteer docents—all retired U.S. Navy salts, some of whom served on this very ship. The accommodations were spartan; we each got a locker and a berth (with an 18-inch vertical clearance, i.e., don't get up too quickly). The cabin we were in had 12 bunks stacked three-high. No bathroom en suite, no balcony, not even a porthole. The evening's schedule—this is the military after all—included roll call, an exhaustive tour of the ship, a simulator ride depicting the attack on Iwo Jima, and dinner in the mess hall (where the only food choice was to eat or not to eat). Some 300 participants and staff roamed a ship that at full capacity hosted about 3,000 sailors. Lights out was at 11 p.m., followed all too soon by early-morning reveille, flying of the colors (flag), and breakfast. Our night proved to be a quick, instructive, and ultimately humbling lesson in what our Navy boys (and in those days they were boys) endured. And what 21st-century middle-class American kid—or parent, for that matter—doesn't need to learn that lesson every once and again?"

Overnight encampments are scheduled throughout the year. Cost is $49.95 per person, including dinner and breakfast. The ship is permanently berthed. Bring a sleeping bag, pillow, flashlight, and a change of clothing. Sinks and toilets are available for use, but not showers.

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Top Stops

Always on the lookout for the bloggable, Marilyn Terrell (and her magnificent RSS feed) comes through again with a useful post about stopovers:

"On their way to Nairobi last summer, my friend and her two sons stopped over in Dubai for the night. Dubai? I hadn't known you could do that. 'It really broke up the long flight,' said my friend, and knowing her perpetual-motion 11-year-old Tyler, I can see the benefit in that. 'Plus, I wanted the boys to see the contrast. Dubai is so over-the-top.' Her dazzled sons agreed: 'It was awesome!' The rest of the three-week trip they spent exploring mostly non-electrified rural villages in Kenya and Tanzania, where my friend had worked with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps years earlier, so the contrast with Dubai could not have been more dramatic. Their Dubai story primed me for a post I saw last week on
Smarter Travel, one of the excellent contenders in the recent Travvies."

Here's a sample of their roundup of airlines that offer free or low-cost stopovers in cool locations:

"Air Tahiti Nui offers low-cost stopovers in Tahiti on some through tickets from the U.S. to Australia or New Zealand, including economy class, with hotel rates starting at $100 per night double occupancy.

"Austrian Airlines' 'Vienna On Us' promotion provides a hotel for one night at no cost, plus airport transfers to business-class travelers from the U.S. to points beyond Vienna.

"On most tickets, including economy class, Cathay Pacific offers low-cost stopovers in Hong Kong to travelers from the U.S. to points in Asia beyond Hong Kong. The website doesn't display special hotel prices.

"Emirates offers stopovers of one or two nights in Dubai to travelers flying beyond Dubai on any published fare. Package prices start at $138 per night, double occupancy, including hotel, breakfast, transfers, and a short-term visa.

"Icelandair provides free stopovers in Reykjavik, up to seven days, for travelers between the U.S. and continental Europe on any class of ticket. Hotel packages are optional.

"Malaysia Airlines posts stopovers in Kuala Lumpur to travelers from the U.S. heading to destinations beyond Malaysia. The website provides no information
on prices or restrictions."

More stops? Click

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From March 13, 2007:

The Boast Post: Traveler Wins Two More Awards

Still basking in our Best Travel Blog glory, IT gets to announce two more awards:

National Geographic Traveler's podcast series, Walks of a Lifetime was named Best Podcast in the first-ever Magazine Publishers of America Digital Awards. Mostly staff-written and narrated by travel expert Rudy Maxa, the podcasts lead listeners on audio tours through Barcelona, Montreal, London, Tokyo, and 21 other cities around the globe. Downloads are free on iTunes.

And "Somewhere Beyond Time," an article published in our May/June 2006 issue, just won the coveted Bedford Pace award for outstanding travel journalism about Great Britain. Exploring Wales with the help of famed writer Jan Morris, writer Michael Shapiro discovers a country's passion for preserving its culture and maintaining its distinct and quirky identity. As the winner of the Grand Prize (he won the magazine category as well as the Grand Award for all four categories), Michael was given a seven-day trip to the U.K., with air/hotel included. (Which prompts us to ask: Where's IT's trip?)

Congrats Traveler team!

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Super Saunas

Every once in a while, we here at IT let National Geographic Traveler's researchers loose on a factoid frenzy, and allow them to share some of the wonderful wackiness they discover while fact-checking articles for the magazine. So far you've had the pleasure of such geek-out posts from both Marilyn Terrell and Jessie Johnston, but the third of our mystery-solving musketeers, Ingrid Ahlgren, has to date never stepped up to this particular blogging plate. That's all about to change. Today, Ingrid goes to bat with a blog about saunas, inspired by a fact-checking frisson she experienced when working on a story about Helsinki:

"When I studied abroad in Stockholm during college, I loved going to the saunas. They seemed to be everywhere: hotels, homes, public swimming pools, even the dorms at Stockholm University.

"During a ski trip to a town near the Norwegian border, my American classmates and I warmed up in our youth hostel's sauna after a day of cross-country and downhill skiing. A few of the girls, including myself, thought it would be fun to jump in the snowdrifts outside the hostel. The group's token teetotaler, I was the only one who hadn't had a few shots of Absolut that night, so I actually felt the clumps of ice freezing to the soles of my feet as I ran on the packed powder and leapt into the nearest pile of it.

"These memories came flooding back recently while I was researching Finland, and came upon an intriguing tidbit about the sauna: It might not have been invented in Scandinavia (blasphemy!). Encyclopedia Britannica's entry on saunas explains: 'The sauna may derive from baths described by Herodotus, who tells that the inhabitants of Scythia in central Eurasia threw water and hempseed on heated stones to create an intoxicating steam.'

"The Finns might not have invented the sauna, but they're still masters of it. The Finnish Sauna Society offers guidelines for experiencing the perfect sauna. (There's also a lexicon with terms such as vihta, the birch 'whisk' used to improve circulation.) The society's tips include taking a shower beforehand and bringing a towel. The Finnish Sauna Society suggests that you avoid drinking alcohol beforehand. Shockingly, their tips do not include jumping in snow.

"Wherever they may have started, saunas today certainly aren't limited to Scandinavia. Weighing in on the subject, Wikipedia says: 'In Latin America, particularly in the highlands of southern Mexico and Guatemala, a version of the sauna indigenous to the Americas, called temazcal, is quite popular. The temazcal is usually made of clay or stone, and has a low ceiling. The temazcal structure is usually shared by an extended family unit. Unlike European sauna culture, temazcal is an individual rather than social activity." Also mentioned are Asian versions; in Korea "saunas are essentially public bathhouses. Various names are used to describe them, such as the smaller mogyoktang, outdoor oncheon, and the elaborate jjimjilbang." And in Japan, "many saunas exist at sports centers and public bathhouses (sentos). The saunas are almost always gender separated, often required by law, and nudity is a required part of proper sauna etiquette."

It's snowing in DC as we write, and we're chilly even with our long underwear and wool socks, so it's fair to say your bloggers would be prepared to drop our kit or anything else necessary for a little of that warm sauna goodness…

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Hypothetically, if Emily King, Traveler's assistant to the editor, had to choose her honeymoon destination today (and funds were unlimited), she would rent a bungalow in the Maldives. Researcher Jessie Johnston, answering under duress, concedes that she'd spend it in a cabin on British Columbia's Pacific coast.

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