Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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We were at Point Dume in Malibu, where we'd just finished a hike around the cliffs of this western tip of land that stretches into the Pacific. Back down on the sand, wind whipped, waves crashing and at the tumble of rocks splashed with salt water, my daughter declared: "Seal!"
I saw nothing but boulders, but waited a beat. Then the head popped up between the rock.
We settled in for a good 20 minutes of up-close wildlife viewing, as the seal reached his head forward, awkwardly pushed off his flippers and flopped his body until he was positioned in the sun. He was so close, we could see his eyelashes. That's when I realized I didn't have my camera, or even a phone.
Soon enough, others made there way to this rocky side of the beach, and I struck up a conversation with a young man in a Wisconsin sweatshirt. He had a phone and was snapping pictures, so I just had to ask. Within two hours, when he was back in range, he'd texted me photos of the seal my daughter named Ribsy, because she could see the contours of his ribs.
My husband's wise line: "You can always trust an earnest Midwesterner."
This time of the year, two things come to the mind of any baseball fan: play ball and road trip. If you’re looking for a quick summer getaway, the Twins intra-division road cities provide something for everyone. Here is one fan’s perspective on these four rivals:
At U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, I was tempted to buy a shirt reading, “I STILL call it Comiskey.” Opened in 1991, it can’t compare to its neighbor to the north (Wrigley Field) and doesn’t have the nostalgic feel of the newer retro ballparks but there is a very nice terrace area in centerfield and the hot dogs are top notch. You may want to avoid the upper deck because it seemed very steep when I was there. (333 W 35th St, Chicago, IL 60616, 312-674-1000, www.whitesox.com)
I am spoiled by the Art Institute of Chicago because of my love for Impressionism. Opened in 1879, it is known for its extensive Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including over 30 by Claude Monet alone. Many of the museum’s priceless Monets are due to Bertha Palmer, a late 19th century Chicago socialite who left them to the museum in 1922. The museum’s famous entrance on Michigan Avenue is guarded by two bronze lion statues, and when a Chicago sports team makes the playoffs, they are frequently seen sporting the team’s colors. (111 South Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603, 312-443-3600, www.artic.edu)
Unfortunately, I never got to Tiger Stadium before it closed. My trip to Detroit included a game at Comerica Park, the new home of the Tigers. They have done a magnificent job of highlighting the team’s storied history, with five statues along the left centerfield wall honoring their greatest players and kiosks throughout the ballpark giving a decade-by-decade account of the team’s history. It’s more of an entertainment center than a ballpark and despite (in my humble opinion) being slightly overdone, it features unobstructed views of the action, a massive scoreboard in left field and a view of downtown Detroit. (2100 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201, 313-471-2000, www.tigers.com)
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, the Fox Theatre is across the street from Comerica Park and features an art deco façade which, when illuminated at night, can be seen from several blocks away. It is Detroit’s top venue for touring Broadway shows, comedians, musicians and more. (2211 Woodward Ave, Detroit, 48201, 313-471-6611, www.olympiaentertainment.com/fox-theatre)
The Indians ballpark, renamed in 2008 as Progressive Field for the insurance company, remains a favorite. One of the first of the “retro” ballparks, I remember walking in for the first time and thinking, “Now, this is what a ballpark is supposed to be!” Very similar to another fan favorite, Camden Yards in Baltimore. Foodies, take note: the concessions are plentiful - with choices ranging from shrimp to donuts. (2401 Ontario St, Cleveland, OH 44115, 216-420-4487, www.indiansbaseball.com)
I'm not a huge music fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on the shores of Lake Erie. Designed by famous Chinese architect I.M. Pei, it opened in 1995 and features multiple levels of permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing the history of rock and roll. (Hall of Fame inductees are honored in their own wing of the museum.) When I was there, one of the temporary exhibits featured John Lennon's handwritten sheets of music. (1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard, Cleveland OH 44114, 216-781-7625, www.rockhall.com)
Whenever people tell me they are going to Kansas City, one word comes to mind to describe this town six hours south on I-35: underrated. Even at 43 years old, the Royals ballpark, Kauffman Stadium, remains one of the most beautiful in the major leagues. You can’t help but enjoy the majestic fountains beyond the outfield fence. I heard fellow Twins fans wandering around asking, “Is this a new stadium?” Also, the ushers and fellow fans were just so darn nice, welcoming us to Kansas City even though we were wearing Twins shirts. (1 Royal Way, Kansas City, MO 64129, 816-921-8000, www.royalsbaseball.com).
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum resides in the 18th and Vine District and appeals to my passion for baseball history. It features multimedia displays and interactive exhibits telling the story of the Negro Leagues, American professional baseball leagues featuring predominantly black players, most notably from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. It was a great way to spend a few hours learning about an often forgotten part of baseball lore. (1616 E 18 St, Kansas City, MO 64108 816-221-1920, www.nlbm.com)
Oh, that pesky budget – when I’m planning a trip, it has a discouraging way of reminding me that it’s all about the benjamins. I like to be out and about sightseeing all day and use my accommodations only as glorified sleeping quarters. If you value experiencing new places more than having luxurious thread counts while on the road, here are a couple of alternatives to spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel room.
In 2011, I made my first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for former Twin Bert Blyleven’s induction. Although I started researching lodging options six months ahead of time, I quickly realized I was too late: the two main choices for visiting this small town of 2,000 were to drive more than an hour each day to stay somewhere less expensive or pay more than $200 per night for a nearby motel.
Since I like to have a roof over my head (for me, “roughing it” doesn’t extend to sleeping in a tent, although that’s another viable option if you are so inclined), I initially dismissed the KOA located a mere ten miles from Cooperstown. When I double checked their website, I discovered they had “kabins,” very reasonably priced bare bones cottages (mine was about $75 per night). Just bring your own sheets, a towel (which can double as a pillow), some trail mix for breakfast and you’re good to go. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with baseball fans from around the country.
When I met a mother and daughter staying with me at the Apple Hostel in Philadelphia, I remember thinking how ingenious it was that they had discovered a way to travel together and make inexpensive but lasting memories. Who needs those fancy lotions and shampoos anyway? Long seen as the domain of the thrifty youngster, hostels should appeal to anyone looking for a convenient jumping off point for a day’s sightseeing as they are frequently located in or near a town’s center. (The Apple Hostel, for example, is in downtown Philadelphia, a mere four blocks from Independence Hall and easily reached from the airport by public transportation. My selection was a female only dorm for about $35 per night.)
While it may not be the most restful place in the world (can’t I catch up on sleep when I return to Minneapolis?) or have the most stunning décor (at the Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam, you’re greeted by a brightly colored mural of a monkey holding a joint), it does often provide some of the same amenities as a hotel including laundry, wifi and access to a refrigerator. And techies that need to be plugged in at all times can be comforted in knowing that every hostel I’ve stayed at has its own electrical outlet for charging all of your digital necessities by each bunk.
Eclectic ideas can lead to memorable travel experiences – I won’t soon forget the foosball table at the Flying Pig Hostel with a bumper sticker reading “I closed Wolski’s! Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Some of the most fun I’ve had exploring the world involves breaking from the norm…with the added bonus of returning home a few bucks richer. A perfect amount to start planning my next adventure.
You know the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”? I feel like adopting that when I travel since I follow a gluten free diet. Venturing away from home when you have special food requirements may seem overwhelming, but I haven’t let it stop me from seeing the world and have adopted some tricks to make it manageable.
Research your destination ahead of time - most restaurants now have menus posted online. I’ve found that if you call when they are not busy they are happy to suggest some options. You can also print gluten free dining cards that are available in more than 50 languages online for free.
Even if you don’t check your bag, there are some things you can bring through security - apples, bananas and oranges hold up well, don’t need to be refrigerated and are easy to eat on the go. Individual packets of nut butter are smaller than three ounces and provide some protein. Live by a grocery store that has a bulk section with the ingredients listed on the bin? It’s fun to make your own trail mix.
If you’re traveling internationally and will be served meals and/or snacks on your flight, call the airline ahead of time and request a special meal. When I went to Germany, the gluten free meal was chicken with broccoli, carrots and rice with a fruit cup and salad. (The snack before we landed was a banana with an Udi’s gluten free chocolate chip muffin, which was much more appealing than the processed egg sandwich everyone else was eating.) I try not to worry about leaving my comfort zone - sometimes it’s easier to find gluten free food in foreign countries. In Peru, the standard side dishes are potatoes and rice and one of their specialties is pollo a la brasa (similar to rotisserie chicken).
Not only can visiting a farmer’s market or going to the grocery store in a new place be a good way to find real food, it can also be a great free sightseeing option. (At a grocery store in Amsterdam, I saw drinks with Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants on them.) If your hotel offers rooms with a refrigerator, Greek yogurt with fruit or string cheese with gluten free crackers are good snacks with some protein that don’t need to be cooked.
An added bonus to bringing my own snacks means less time spent sitting in restaurants waiting for food and more time (and money) I can devote to maximizing my sightseeing time. I can’t wait to discover more tricks.
Like many others, I first went to Napa for the wine and came away wowed and dazzled by the food. Great restaurants use an astonishing array of fresh ingredients to create wonderful dishes, usually of the simple, vibrant ilk. Every return trip has meant exciting new (to me) venues, including Solbar in Calistoga and Morimoto in the town of Napa last month.
And as swell as it is to savor this gastro-utopia at a table, I actually prefer to eat at the bar, at least when there are just one or two of us. The full menu is available without fail. It’s generally a great perch for people-watching. The person behind the bar is usually a seasoned pro in food service — someone who has made this his or her profession, not the “I’m just doing this until I get enough acting/modeling gigs” types encountered at all too many restaurants. Plus they almost assuredly know how lucky they are to live in such a fabulous place and work at such a cool eatery.
But the big bonus is that this is where the people who do the truly important work in Napa tend to hang out. While the nouveau riche winery owners are regaling one another in the main dining area, the winemakers, vineyard managers and cellarmasters often are just enjoying a nice meal and a beverage (often a beer; as the saying goes, “it takes a lot of beer to make good wine”) at the bar.
I’ve had particular luck meeting such folks at two of Twin Cities native Cindy Pawlcyn’s superb restaurants, Mustards Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. But I’ve also encountered cool Napa-ites at Press, Bistro Jeanty and downstairs in the atmospheric bar at Goose & Gander.
Oh, and most recently, the octopus seemed a little more tender and the sake a touch sweeter at the convivial sushi bar at Morimoto.
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