Newsletter: Escapes: Love is in the air, especially if you’re a cyclist in Santiago

Bicycles from La Bicicleta Verde tour company are parked outside poet Pablo Neruda's home in Santiago, Chile
(Tamara Merino / For The Times)

It’s all about the heart today, and so is this newsletter: the places in the heart that make you want to return again and again or visit for the first time.

Brian E. Clark had visited Santiago, Chile, about 35 years ago. His visit was the jumping-off point for a whitewater rafting trip, so although he saw some of the city, that wasn’t his first priority.

It was on his most recent trip that he produced a story on biking the city. Snort-laugh here if you can imagine biking in any city without wearing a suit of armor. But as Clark discovered, Santiago — taking a cue from Bogotá, Colombia, its neighbor 3,800 miles to the north — has started shutting parts of downtown to traffic on Sundays.


A chance to see this city of 7 million as he merrily rolled along lured Clark to a city biking tour of Santiago.

“Only a few days before I did my guided bike ride with La Bicicleta Verde, I’d nearly been run over by drivers on some of those same streets that were now bereft of vehicles,” he said in an email. “Chilean law may give pedestrians the right of way, but some motorists seemed to view me as target when I’d dared to step foot on what they clearly viewed as their turf.

“So it was especially enjoyable — sublime even — to have those temporarily calm byways to share with other cyclists. And not a single car. ”Other cities are joining the no-cars-allowed trend, according to Belgium and Copenhagen have large car-free zones; Mexico City bans vehicular traffic a couple of days a week and two Saturdays. And then there is Bogota, Colombia, which was so prescient in 1974 that it has closed roads to vehicular traffic one day a week ever since.

So, yes, love is in the air. But think about what a wonderful world it would be if there were fewer vehicular emissions in the air because we left our cars at home — or weren’t constantly looking for parking.

The parking problem is one of the other topics we take a look at this week, along with tennis in Indian Wells, a surplus of snow in the California mountains (meaning a ski season that won’t quit) and wave season, that magical time of year when cruise bargain hunters can save money by booking early. And because it’s a day of hearts and flowers, we talk about the prospects for seeing wildflowers in Anza-Borrego and getting married by Elvis, the female version.

Cupid, draw back your bow.

Freewheeling and two-wheeling in Santiago

Not only did Brian Clark like seeing the city from the seat of a bicycle, but he also liked the changes he saw. “I spent nearly week exploring the city and was pleasantly surprised,” he said in an email. “The country — and Santiago itself — has changed dramatically, people told me frequently. Chile is no longer ruled by a brutal military regime [and] it has become the most prosperous country in South America.” Plus it’s winter there now, more than enough reasons to think about adding this place to your travel itinerary.


A group of tourists rides rented bicycles in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago, Chile, where car-free Sundays make exploring on two wheels easier.
(Tamara Merino / For The Times)

We’ll bail you out

Not of jail but out of your Valentine’s Day conundrum. Christopher Reynolds writes about seven dreamy places where you can take your honey — maybe not today but an I.O.U. for the future will work as well.

Michael Hiller also has face-saving suggestions (which let you pretend you were thinking about this weeks ago) for experiences in Las Vegas that might make your sweetheart’s eyes light up, including a night flight over Vegas and foodie tours that take you to some of the best spots (also a great gift because, in both cases, you have to go too).

If you’re in Vegas this very day and the urge to merge takes over, you can get hitched by a “gender-bending Elvis.” That’s just one of the spots where you can say, “I do,” Jay Jones writes.

Some really fresh flowers for V-Day

You can even promise flowers for the future (because if you’re stopping to get some on the way home from the office, they more than likely will be sad, sad and sadder). Mary Forgione writes about the future of the wildflowers in Anza-Borrego and why you may want to head out to the state park right now.

Sand verbena is one of the early wildflowers visitors can see now at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park northeast of San Diego. Peak blooms are expected on the desert floor this month after the heavy winter rains.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A wave of deals for cruise bargain hunters

Here’s a way to say, “I do.” As in “I do want to take a cruise, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money.” This time of year is known as wave season, and it portends bargains on upcoming trips. Rosemary McClure writes about where you’ll find low prices on the high seas in some alluring destinations. (Alaska will be hot, she notes— with bargains. We’re not forecasting weather.)

Finding a spot is no walk in the park

Frustrated. Fuming. Fretting. Those were just some of the emotions I felt as I searched for parking in (fill in the blank — could be anywhere, although I was in San Diego). A weekend of hunting for places to leave my car while I attended to matters at hand left me humbled and embarrassed, the latter because I thought I could wing it. That’s not such a hot idea, as you’ll see in this On the Spot; you need a parking strategy. Oh. Come. On. But yes.

(Tess Richards / For The Times)

How allergy sufferers can ensure their safety in the air

If you’re a traveler who suffers from allergies — to animals and to some foods — flying can be a nightmare. P.K. Daniel explains what you need to do to ensure that your problems are addressed and your interests protected because they can mean the difference between life and death.

A service dog strolls down a plane while taking part in a training exercise. Service animals are necessary for some fliers; pet dander is a problem for others. How to resolve the question of competing interests?
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Tennis, anyone?

In Indian Wells, March Madness is about to descend, but it has to do with tennis, not basketball. In a Weekend Escape, writer Lori Basheda describes the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as a veritable “Disneyland for tennis fans” and notes that it “feels like spring break for grownups.” Although lodging may be an issue, we offer some ideas on finding a place to stay as well.

View during semifinal match last year at BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
(Joe Scarnici / Getty Images)

What we’re reading

If it ain’t broken, don’t visit it: Kerry Wolfe writes that blemishes are beautiful, signaling out “17 of the World’s Most Beautifully Broken Places,” a luscious piece for Atlas Obscura that begins with a place in New Mexico, described as a “land … full of geologic eye candy.” Yes please.

Lists fill me with (travel) lust, and Conde Nast’s “Gold List 2019” promises “our editors’ all-time favorite destinations and places to stay.” In that latter category, one L.A. hotel made the all-time list, along with lodges in Paris, Chicago, Mauritius and more.

Ultra-low-cost carriers continue to grow. Dennis Rudner writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Allegiant will introduce Vegas-L.A. service beginning service twice weekly June 5. (Looks like flight days are Wednesdays and Saturdays.) Fares are as low as $39 each way, but remember, unless you are a minimalist traveler, you may pay more for a bag, a seat assignment or other niceties.

The sun rises on Las Vegas, which Allegiant Air will begin serving June 5.
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

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End paper

Many people loathe Valentine’s Day, a made-up event that pressures us into declarations of love that we may not be ready to make or don’t really feel anymore.

But you don’t have to miss out on the fun of romance because who says it has to be about a person? It can be about a place.

In searching for that Vegas photo above, I would up in my digital photo archive. Suddenly, I was transported to Vegas, yes, but also to Oatman, Ariz., which is touristy and clichéd but which I loved anyway; to Castle Dome City, Ghost Town and Museum in Yuma, Ariz., which you’d miss if you didn’t know about it.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the spring
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

I saw a photo of Kew Gardens in Richmond, a short train ride from London; and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. I remembered with pleasure a trip to Tigers in Myrtle Beach, S.C. , where I got to pet a baby tiger; and to Highclere Castle (and yes, I can’t wait for the “Downton” movie) and to the Philippines, after an absence of more than 45 years. I wondered, looking at photos of Sydney, Australia, when I might return for another Opera on the Harbor. (It’s “Westside Story” this year.)

On a chilly winter’s day, my heart was warmed and I felt the kind of spark of anticipation that sets one’s imagination free. When is my next adventure? Where might it take me? What magic might it conjure? I don’t know the answer just yet, but I do owe that tingling feeling to … the world, the most consistent love interest I’ve ever had. On some days, this one and others, that is more than enough.

Wherever you pursue your passion, please travel safely and well and know that we will be here to welcome you home.