Best travel moments 2019: Dinner that squirmed, wet California desert, chocolate
Memo from: Reynolds, C
To: Expense reporting
Re: Travel in 2019
Greetings, unseen corporate expense account enforcement officers. It’s been a busy year, and from the bottom of my carry-on bag, I thank you for signing off on all (well, most) of this year’s expenditures on the road.
Especially that New Orleans hotel during Mardi Gras. I know, that was a lot to pay for very little sleep.
And the epic lunch at the seafood market in Seoul (Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market, two people, $130). You couldn’t see it from your office, but one of those creatures was actually still squirming on its way from the bowl to my mouth.
Also, about that March night in the motel outside Joshua Tree National Park? I know I told you its name and rate (Safari Motor Inn, one night, $85). But until you’ve sat down with the proprietor to see the possible UFO images he’s captured with his surveillance camera, you haven’t really taken measure of the place.
At moments like these, I worry that the little window on your software form might not allow full appreciation of what the company is paying for when I’m on the road. The point of a Travel section, print or online, is to make discoveries and mistakes on behalf of readers, so they can head off to even greater adventures of their own.
These were some of my 2019 discoveries and mistakes in North America, Europe and Asia, some from travels on my own dime, most from travels on your behalf. Most of them, I wouldn’t trade for anything. (Except for my December stay at the Strat, in Las Vegas, amid renovation sounds and smells. I’d trade that for the Safari Motor Inn anytime.)
Best beach sunrise
Haeundae, Busan, South Korea. It was a January morning, as cold as a tax collector’s heart, but that low-hanging sun illuminated the place wonderfully.
Best desert dusk
Wahweap Overlook, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Ariz. An environmentalist might argue that most of this water shouldn’t be there, because the Glen Canyon Dam shouldn’t have been built. But until they tear it down, I’m going to enjoy the way the light bounces between the reservoir and the red rocks.
Greatest place for a chocolate factory
St. Finian’s Bay in Ireland. On a windy, rainy day in winter, you drive to the far southern reaches of Ireland, where houses are few and far between and the waves assault the shore like troops attacking enemy lines. You reach St. Finian’s Bay, the Glen, Ballinskelligs, County Kerry. And suddenly, boom, you’re at the door of Skelligs Chocolate. Then you’re inside, tasting. And then you’re at the counter, handing over many, many euros for many, many treats, because the rain outside is sideways and this seems such an improbable place to find such delicious goods. (The Ring of Kerry, very popular in summer, runs close by the factory.)
C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, Austin, Texas. I went to Austin to write about the Continental Club, which has decades of happy history as a rollicking rock music venue. It was a blast. But there was something cozier about C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, which is a nearby newish place designed to feel like an oldish place (more specifically, “a neighborhood juke joint.”).
Like the Continental, it’s on South Congress Avenue and owned by Steve Wertheimer, but it leans more toward R&B. Next time I’ll get there early enough to claim one of the booths along the wall. Honorable mention: The Spotted Cat Music Club, a jazz haunt on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny district of New Orleans.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southernmost Arizona. This is usually some of the deadliest, driest desert in North America. But on the April day I showed up, the landscape was deep green from recent rains. The earth was deep brown and every cactus seemed to be as stout as a fatted calf. Honorable mention in this category goes to Joshua Tree in March, when winter rains led to a spring binge of wildflowers.
Los Islotes, Isla Espíritu Santo, near La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Warm water. Dramatic rock formations. More than a dozen species of fish in as many colors as Bill Gates has millions. A sea lion colony full of playful pups.
Three great meals
• Margherita pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, North Beach, San Francisco.
• The six-course chef’s menu ($33) at Nómada Cocina de Interpretación, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
• And at Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market in Seoul, I believe I ate most of the creatures in the sea, including abalone, crab and octopus.
Best street for a stroll
Calle Aldama, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Snug dimensions, bright colors, well-worn cobblestones.
Most perilous selfie spot
Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Ariz. The National Park Service has put in a viewing platform with a railing, but reckless selfie-obsessed people with their phones still scramble out to the points of greatest physical risk. So many people were taking so many ridiculous risks that I had to turn away. The people in this shot were actually behaving fairly sensibly, but you can see the temptations of the landscape. Several people died in 2018. Unless the nature of human beings and/or Instagram changes, I’m afraid there will be more.
Most memorable little creatures
Sea turtles, Baja California. They looked like Oreos with legs, but the video shows they were hatchling sea turtles, scrambling into the Pacific at sunset in Todos Santos, Baja California.
Best early-morning hike
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah. The big crowds go trouping up this red-rock path in late afternoon, when the light is better for photos. In the morning, I had room to relax, at least for a little while.
Best advertisement for quitting alcohol forever
Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Mardi Gras weekend. I walked from elsewhere in the French Quarter for five minutes just to see. Could it possibly be as bad as people say? Yes. It’s a small miracle that nobody threw up on my shoes.
Four great bookstores
• City Lights in San Francisco.
• South Congress Books in Austin, Texas.
• Tattered Cover in Denver.
• Back of Beyond Books in Moab, Utah. Browse, buy, read and repeat.
Three great public buildings
• The Vancouver Convention Centre overlooks the waterfront (cruise ships, float planes, about a million trees across the water) and is full of sustainable design elements and gorgeous woodwork.
• Union Station in Denver, a revived train station with a hotel and several restaurants and retailers tucked inside, hums with life at a time when many train stations seem to be dozing off.
• Also, the Monhegan Memorial Library on Monhegan Island is easily mistaken for a small cottage. Yet, somehow, it has room inside for everything a word-hungry wanderer age 8 or 80 might need. Rumor is that in winter (as snow piles up and the population dips below 100), the islanders leave the library unlocked, just in case anybody gets cabin fever and desperately needs a read.
Most shameless thieves
The island foxes of Santa Cruz Island. Never turn your back on these animals that inhabit Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park. Their population is booming after a return from endangered status. Show up to claim one of the island’s 31 campsites, and they’ll soon be silently circling you, like vultures, if vultures were furry, cuddly and low to the ground. Second most shameless thief: whoever came up with “resort fees” as a way to boost hotel bills.
Three great little businesses
Like a bench-shaped boulder next to a placid pond, each is splendidly fitted to its setting.
• Candy in the Cove, which claims to be the world’s smallest candy shop, on Bowen Island, British Columbia.
• Dingle Record Shop, County Kerry, Ireland.
• And Schein & Schein Antique Maps and Prints on Grant Avenue in North Beach, San Francisco. (Be warned that hours are limited. It’s open 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, otherwise by appointment.)
Most ingenious trails
Monhegan Island, off Maine. The island is tiny — barely 500 acres, with no paved roads. In the last two centuries, its trailblazers have created 12 miles of varied network of paths. Dense woods. Stony bluffs. Foggy inlets. And keep an eye out for fairy houses.
Three lodgings I loved
• The Island Inn on Monhegan Island, open only in summer, has 32 rooms, no TVs, several shared bathrooms and a priceless perch overlooking the island’s main pier and neighboring Manana Island. (Most rooms for two rent for $200-$355; the eight little rooms that share baths go for as little as $160.)
• The Hotel Boheme, in North Beach, San Francisco, is an upstairs retreat along Columbus Avenue, full of warm colors (orange walls) and black-and–white pictures of the city back in the day. It has 15 rooms (the quietest ones face away from the avenue), usually priced at $185-$255 nightly.
• Los Colibris Casitas, Todos Santos, Baja California, clings to a desert hillside, overlooking dramatic shoreline, with a garden that beckons hummingbirds and a little pool that will beckon you. (Its seven units, some stand-alone structures, rent for $115-$265.)
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