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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Accolades for Travel

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Adventure travel Updated: September 17, 2014 - 3:43 PM

What kind of person hitchhikes, at age 60, across the country? A former hitchhiker. An adventurous soul. Someone who chooses to trust others, despite encountering the darker sides of humanity as a newspaper reporter. That would be Bill McAuliffe. My recently retired colleague wrote a rollicking story, entitled “Hitchhiking in a new age,” about begging rides from the Twin Cities to Washington State for Travel. The story earned gold in the Adventure Travel category of the Society of American Travel Writer’s Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition.  

The Society also awarded Curt Brown an honorable mention in the Cultural Travel category for his Star Tribune story “In Uganda, faith endures.” This beautifully told tale illuminates a world unseen by most: a small enclave of Jews in Uganda. It’s another example of armchair travel at its best. 

The Star Tribune Travel section took the bronze award for best newspaper travel section with a circulation of 350,000 and up. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times took gold and silver, respectively. 

Windy City Screenings

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Chicago Updated: September 9, 2014 - 4:55 PM

While other film buffs are at viewings in Toronto (where the Toronto International Film Festival is going on at this moment), you might turn your eyes on Chicago. Make a hotel reservation. Begin crafting your viewing plan. The Windy City’s own impressive film festival — slated for October 9-23 — is celebrating its 50th year.  
Among the films screened will be “The Babadook,” an Australian horror flick that was well received at Sundance; “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” the Chinese film that took the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, and the Juliette Binoche vehicle “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
Despite excitement over this year’s newcomers, though, an old movie may prove the hardest ticket to get. Academy Award winner and cult classic “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” made its world premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1975. The Milos Forman masterpiece will relieve the glory in a newly restored version this year.
Multi-screening festival passes are on sale now. The movie schedule will be online Sept. 16. Individual tickets go on sale to the general public Sept. 19. For more information, click here. JW Marriot Chicago is the headquarters hotel for the festival.

Belly up to the bar in Napa

Posted by: under U.S. travel Updated: July 10, 2014 - 2:09 PM

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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A rosy view of Portland

Posted by: under U.S. travel Updated: June 13, 2014 - 8:28 AM

People tend to go to Portland for one reason above all others. But that reason varies mightily. It might be the wonderfully wide-ranging restaurant scene (from countless food carts to the don’t-dare-miss-it Thai treasure Pok Pok); the country’s most revered big bookstore, Powell’s Books; the hipster vibe, or as a gateway to Pinot Noir Heaven, the Willamette Valley 30 miles to the southwest.

But in summertime, there’s no better impetus to go than the clunkily named International Rose Test Garden.

Tumbling down a hillside in Washington Park, the garden boasts killer views of the city and Mount Hood. But all eyes should be trained on the myriad blooms. Who knew there were so many shades of orange, pink, red, yellow and violet? Or so many ways to use white to punch up said colors in multi-hued eye-poppers?

The name is actually accurate — new hybrids have been tried out there since 1917, making this the nation’s oldest continuously operated rose test  garden. But there’s also a casual feel to the endless tiers of shrubs and vines, and visitors’ reverence for roses tends to make for peaceful strolls. 

The lone downside for Minnesotans: You’ll never look at that perfectly nice rose garden on Lake Harriet’s east side the same way again.

A rare kudo for an airline

Posted by: under Airlines Updated: May 28, 2014 - 3:40 PM

When it comes to airlines, I have never been able to follow my mother’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” With escalating airfares capped by extra fees, serious space shrinkage and endless tarriances on the tarmac (“OK folks, now we have to de-ice the plane before we can take off”), it’s been open season to let ’er rip on these operations.

Until last Wednesday.

That morning, my way better half got a phone call we had been dreading: Her cancer-stricken brother was near death in Nashville. With bereavement fares having all but disappeared — American and United dropped their policies earlier this year — I feared the worst in finding an airfare, especially since this scenario begged for an open-ended return date.

To the rescue came Southwest. I found a one-way fare for that afternoon of $214. I don’t need to know the reason for such a reasonable rate. (Delta’s best fare, by the way, was $570.) I’m just glad we have an airline that still operates that way.

Thank you, Southwest.

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