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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Seal of approval

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Adventure travel, U.S. travel Updated: April 14, 2015 - 12:36 PM

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."

Visas for India -- it all worked out

Posted by: Catherine Preus under Adventure travel, Consumer travel, International travel, Passports Updated: April 9, 2015 - 1:27 PM

It turns out that all that worry (I wrote about it here) about how to procure a visa for India was unnecessary.  

Before we left on a family trip a month ago, I researched and debated using a fairly new system, called Tourist Visa on Arrival, rather than the standard method of sending your passports to a third party and paying them to process and deliver your papers to the Indian consulate. This third-party process was quite expensive (for the four of us it would have cost about the same as buying another plane ticket) and time-consuming, and I had heard horror stories from travelers about not getting their papers back in time.

We went with the simpler, cheaper ($60 per visa) online process, which involves uploading photos and passport images at the Indian government's TVoA website, and then printing out the e-mail that says your visa has been granted. This becomes your visa, which we showed to the agent at MSP when we checked in.

When we arrived in Delhi at 2 in the morning with our two young children, we simply got in a separate line, clearly marked Tourist Visa on Arrival. The agent took our papers, took our fingerprints, and then stamped the visa into our passports. The process was somewhat slow – each person took about 10-15 minutes – but otherwise efficient and simple.

I would highly recommend this route if your travel fits the visa's guidelines: you're staying for less than 30 days, you only need a single entry, you're visiting as a tourist, and you have a return ticket. 

Roadtripping through the AL Central

Posted by: Sarah Johnson under Chicago, Regional travel, Road trips, U.S. travel Updated: April 6, 2015 - 12:26 PM

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:

Chicago

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)

Detroit

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)

Cleveland

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) 

Kansas City

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)

Making travel better

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Adventure travel Updated: March 16, 2015 - 10:10 AM

Minnetonka native Doug Lansky has been travel the world for years. Clearly, he has done much thinking about a traveler's experiences, too. Check out his quick and fascinating TED talk/Stockholm on how you can find authentic destinations and make your travel experience better.

Delta does right by grieving family

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Airlines Updated: March 12, 2015 - 4:07 PM

Charlie Heitzig of Maple Grove recently sent an e-mail that surprised, beginning with the subject line: “How to thank Delta.” As the Travel editor, many of the e-mails I receive about airlines are well-founded gripes. What had Delta done to deserve a commendation?
I opened the e-mail, and was stopped in my tracks as I read his heart-wrenching tale. Heitzig and his wife, Katie, lost their 12-year-old daughter Grace unexpectedly in January. (Read Grace’s obituary by colleague Jeremy Olson here.) The family is taking a long-planned spring break trip to Puerto Rico. Their other daughter, Ellie, was no longer looking forward to the trip after the death of her sister, especially as the only child. So the family decided to bring along one of Ellie’s friends. When they called Delta to transfer Grace's ticket, they braced for frustration. Instead, Delta eased the switch.
“We originally paid around $750 for Grace’s fare, but the price now for the same ticket is about $1,500 so there was a tremendous opportunity to make money,” Heitzig wrote, adding that the experience brought “a brief smile and happy kick to our day.”
It’s nice to share a story of an airline’s good customer service and a grieving family’s gratitude. May their vacation bring them respite.

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