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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Gubbio: Umbria's hidden treasure

Posted by: Bill Ward under Europe Updated: April 24, 2014 - 8:50 AM

I can sorta kinda understand the people who decide to “see” Italy via two days apiece in Venice, Florence and Rome — if they know it’s the only time they’ll ever visit the boot-shaped wonderland. But even worse than not being able to do justice to any of those wondrous cities, they’re completely missing out on extraordinary destinations up and down the peninsula.

Like Gubbio.

This jewel of a town in central Umbria could serve as a movie set for a medieval or Renaissance drama or horror movie, with imposing palazzos and steep, winding cobblestone streets that ooze a sense of foreboding around every curve and corner.

There’s even a Fountain of the Mad in the town’s center; running around it three times allegedly bestows it, rather than curing it. The bird-cage-like lift to Monte Ingini is a bit bizarre, too. But the shops selling local Majolica pottery are eminently sane (and spendy, while the fabulous Taverna del Lupo (Via Giovanni Ansidel) serves up fab local fare such as rabbit and what my better half called the best omelet ever.

L.A.'s Original Farmers Market

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under U.S. travel Updated: April 10, 2014 - 3:07 PM

L.A.’s most endearing lunch spot: I ate tortilla soup and sipped fresh-squeezed watermelon juice, while my husband opted for tacos, from Loteria Grill, a restaurant that specializes in Oaxacan fare. My daughter went for an egg- and cheese-filled treat from the French Crepe Company. Food in hand, we grabbed a Formica-topped table in the sun and dug into our lunch, with a side of Los Angeles history.
Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market, in the heart of the city at Fairfax Av. and 3rd St., has been serving up good food since 1934. That’s when a collection of farmers converged on land that had been a dairy farm to sell produce to residents of the burgeoning city.
The farmers market was a hit, and soon permanent stalls were being built. Today, shoppers still pull classic green wooden carts ­— which are built by hand on site — as they fill up on California’s fresh produce, English toffee made from a family recipe, roasted nuts and other food stuff from more than 80 vendors.
We headed there after a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a fascinating network of museum buildings and open air spaces. We saw a Calder exhibit and another devoted to art inspired by soccer, “Futbol: the Beautiful Game.” That show included an Andy Warhol portrait of soccer great Pelé and a mock-up of a soccer match featuring Hulks vs. Transformers surrounded by a stadium filled with Virgin Marys, gnomes, Roman soldiers and other surprising fans.
We skipped the museum’s own open-air restaurant, because I knew the market would offer other reasons to gawk.
There is the baker decorating a cake in the window of his stall; two dapper gentlemen discussing growing old in an image-conscious town; children licking ice cream cones. And then there was the tall, bearded guy.
“Jeff Daniels,” I whispered to my husband. Not quite. Far cry, really. But it never hurts to keep an eye out, whether for actors or the hungry residents of L.A. The market always puts on a good show.  
 

TSA Pre-check envy

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Airports Updated: March 28, 2014 - 9:33 AM

Pre-check envy: A friend on his way to New York posted, “I love TSA Pre! I kept my shoes on and laptop in my bag and didn’t have to show my shaving cream.” A Facebook boast like that — when wait times at MSP demand we arrive more than two hours ahead of our flight ­— is akin to those selfies of legs on a beach chair with some warm ocean in the distance. It’s an invitation to envy.

Or maybe, it’s simply meant as encouragement to join the fast crowd, the one that skips the long lines at airport security checkpoints because the Transportation Security Administration has scrutinized their fingerprints and background and determined they are safe to board. 

Applications cost $85 (not refunded in the event you are not approved), which means that the outlay for my family of 3 would be enough to buy a round-trip ticket, at least during a fare sale. Besides, what’s the point of zipping through security if my family will wind along the security line for an hour? Of course, I could just wait for them somewhere. Say, Surdyk’s Flights, glass of wine in hand? If you want to join, too, go to www.tsa.gov.

Block EE (for Excellent Eats)

Posted by: Bill Ward under U.S. travel Updated: March 27, 2014 - 3:25 PM

At one end of the block, scores of hipsters chat in a loosely aligned queue outside Tartine Bakery.

At the other end, a shorter line (in both length and the height of patrons) smack their lips outside the Bi-Rite Creamery.

In between, people of all ages bask at sun-splashed tables and gulp down insanely fresh salads and deftly charred pies at Delfina Pizzeria, while foodies pour into the treasure-filled Bi-Rite Grocery.

San Francisco is packed with not only a gazillion great food purveyors but also countless compact areas (North Beach, South of Market) with plentiful stops for the gastronome. But this single block of 18th Street, running between Guerrero and Dolores streets (and leading to the splendiferous Dolores Park), takes the quality cake in one of the world’s foremost food cities.

Few would argue that the city has a better bakery than Tartine; Bi-Rite’s shelves are laden with most everything a serious cook would want or need (along with a truly stellar wine selection), and at night the “regular” Delfina serves up some of the finest Italian food anywhere.

Sorry, Nicollet, but it’s hard to call anything but this “Eat Street.”

To chaperone or not

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under International travel Updated: March 20, 2014 - 3:03 PM

No rest for the weary: I chaperoned once when my daughter’s class spent a few days and nights on a Wisconsin farm. Turns out I was no match for the five first- through third-graders in my room. They finally got to sleep around midnight. Like the children, I returned home exhausted. So when a reader called to ask if she should head to Italy as a chaperone for her daughter and some classmates, my muscles tensed. (Chalk it up to flashbacks.) She had only five days to decide, and the trip would cost her $4,100.
I knew what I would do. But I tried to be judicious, realizing that such a decision depends upon the individual. Would she take delight in seeing the world through the wide, excited eyes of youth, or feel ripped off when the schedule deprived her of a leisurely morning cappuccino?
As the reader said, “I don’t know which should play a bigger role, the destination or the situation.” It’s an interesting conundrum. If you’ve been a chaperone on an international trip, we'd love to hear about your experience.

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