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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A rare kudo for an airline

Posted by: Bill Ward 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.

Get with the 'Inn' crowd

Posted by: Bill Ward under U.S. travel Updated: May 15, 2014 - 11:16 AM

George Washington slept here, or at least in the vicinity. But the reason to go to the Inn at Little Washington is to eat one of the best meals in the country. In a still-teeny-tiny town that was mapped by a young surveyor named George Washington in 1749, the inn does of course have lodgings ($460 and up), but it’s an easy drive from “Big Washington,” not quite 70 miles to the east.

When it opened on the site of a former gas station in 1978, the closest restaurant was 40 miles away. Before long, the $4.95 dinners got fancier and tastier. The Inn at Little Washington was the first establishment to be 5-star Mobil and 5-Diamond AAA designations.

Today, Patrick O’Connell turns out stunning, thrilling dishes using the freshest local ingredients, from seasonal vegetables to country ham. Our meal started with, technically, our names printed on the menu, but the food included a crabcake “sandwich” bounded by fried green tomatoes with a tomato vinaigrette and prawns with charred onions and mango mint salsa.

It got better from there, capped by a ridiculously cool cheese cart: Faira, a wooden cow on wheels with a bountiful array of selections in a tray on her back.

The late, great New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne called this “the most magnificent inn I’ve ever seen, in this country or Europe, where I had the most fantastic meal of my life.” No argument here.

Sun Country launches new deals

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Airlines, Deals Updated: April 28, 2014 - 10:35 AM

Want to go to Chicago this summer? Or Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles or a handful of other cities? Don't book until you've checked the fares offered by Sun Country. For instance, you can get to Chicago for $84 one-way, a fare that nearly matches Amtrak rates. To get the "Sun Drop" rate, book by May 8 for flights May 12 through August 31. Travel is valid on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; 14 day advance purchase required.

Destinations with discounted fares also include Lansing, Mich., Boston, Mass., New York City, Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco. May 26 is a blackout date; fares may sell out quickly.

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.  
 

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