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Destination Washington

A Capital Steak House in D.C.

September 24th 2012

Del Frisco Washington DC

If there is one thing Washington, D.C., isn’t lacking, it’s steakhouses. The city is chock-full of power-lunch porterhouse places with dim lighting, white tablecloths and high price tags.

Appealing to this already well-covered suit-and-tie crowd can be tough for a new eatery, but Del Frisco’s Grille is looking to target a different, less stuffy demographic.

Opened in July, the eatery — located along Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 12th Street — is the latest in a national chain of relaxed steakhouses run by Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group.

“We wanted to make it more a casual but upscale experience for the guest,” CEO Mark Mednansky said. “A place you don’t really go to do a business deal, but you go to celebrate.” All of the typical steakhouse staples are present at Del Frisco’s, but with a slight twist. The decor in the 8,000-square-foot restaurant is decidedly modern and sleek, but features warm, rich colors and inviting, cushy booths. The lighting is still subdued, but huge sliding windows open out onto a large front patio area, bringing in lots of natural light. Read more ..

Travel and Politics

Senator Rubio Tweets his dispute with American Airlines

September 22nd 2012

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ran into trouble with his flight back to Washington on Friday and took to Twitter to vent his frustrations. “Trying to get to DC for early morning votes tonight but let's just say this has not been the best week in American Airlines history,” Rubio tweeted. “Every American flight I have been on this week has been at least two hours late or cancelled. This one already one hour delayed.”

The rising Republican star was coming back to Washington to vote on the six-month spending bill that will keep the federal government open until March next year. Rubio complained that the airline was delaying his flight back to the nation’s capital. “Delaying flight for ‘maintenance’ to squeeze connectors from other flight, oldest trick in book.Feel bad for crew.#cmonman#AmericanAirlines,” Rubio tweeted. Read more ..

Destination Tel Aviv

Where Pink and Tony Blair dine in Tel Aviv

September 21st 2012

Messa - Tel Aviv

Chef Aviv Moshe and three partners opened Messa in 2004, aiming to redefine the White City’s dining experience.

Tony Blair, Pink and Jean-Claude Van Damme are among a roster of celebs who’ve sampled Chef Aviv Moshe’s dishes at Messa near the Tel Aviv Cinematheque — intrigued, no doubt, by the eatery’s inclusion on the 2005 Condé Nast Traveler global Hot Tables list, and recommendations by Italian and French restaurant critics including Gilles Pudlowski.

After eight years, Messa is still getting attention. In June, The Address magazine included Messa as one of nine “must to-do list” destinations. The Lonely Planet review gushes: “More than a restaurant with impeccable haute cuisine, Messa has a magical quality that raises the restaurant experience to a new level. … Following your meal, spare time for a drink in the stunning jet-black bar.” Read more ..

Destination Arizona

Southwest Focuses on Innovation in Food, Agriculture and Land Use

September 12th 2012


In the waning days of summer, southern Arizona will become the hot spot for food. Convened by the Southwest Marketing Network, the upcoming Border Food Summit is meant to attract people from across the region for three days of farm tours, presentations, workshops, discussions and, of course, traditional foods sampling.

Scheduled for September 16-18 in Rio Rico, Arizona, a community located south of Tucson, the summit will address soil and land conservation, sustainable farming in an arid environment, community food systems, alternative food financing models, food justice and more. Gary Paul Nabhan, endowed chair for sustainable agriculture at the University of Arizona in Tucscon, set the tone for the meet in an article for the Southwest Marketing Network newsletter: “This is a region where tremendous innovations are occurring at the grassroots level-from La Semilla Food Center’s work between Las Cruces and El Paso, and the Why Hunger/Somos La Semilla initiative in border counties of Arizona, to innovations found in Mexico’s border towns, farms and ranch communities. Read more ..

America on Edge

National 9/11 Museum Still Unfinished Eleven Years Later

September 10th 2012

Twin Towers 9/11

More than 4 million people have visited the September 11 Memorial in New York City since it opened last year on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Visitors from around the world come to watch the waterfalls rush into the deep footprints of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers and to read the names of those who died, etched in bronze panels surrounding the pools.

But work on the September 11 Museum at the site, which was to open in time for the 11th anniversary of the attacks, stopped months ago because of financial disputes between the private foundation that owns the Memorial & Museum, and the public Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site.

The museum’s steel and glass entry hall is built, but its interior is unfinished, and a sign outside warns visitors away. Monica Iken, whose husband, Michael, died in the attacks, calls the impasse a disgrace. "It’s an embarrassment for the world to see," she said. "They come there, and I’ve been there several times where people come up to me and say, 'Where’s the museum, why is it not open?' How do you explain that: 'Oh, because we’re fighting over some money?'" Read more ..

Destination Israel

Tel Aviv Bids for Artificial Island International Airport At Sea

September 7th 2012

Macau Island Airport
Macau's Island Airport - Simialr to Tel Aviv Plan

There has been talk for a couple of years already that Tel Aviv’s international airport will move to the sea, literally. A proposal has been submitted to create an artificial island off the city’s coast to replace the Ben Gurion Airport, one that services local, domestic and international flights. A couple months ago I interviewed a geologist helping to develop feasibility studies for such a structure. And according to media reports it looks like the crazy plan is going ahead despite environmental risks to the fragile Mediterranean Sea, and security risks of sabotage.

A new committee from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Israel developed a feasibility report for this artificial airport island to be built off the coast of the Tel Aviv suburb Rishon LeZion. Goodovitch Architects have drafted some sketches (above) of how the airport could look. Among the parties involved in the far-flung idea is Elie Schalit, 92, a chairman and founder of the Colbert Group, which builds giant cruise ships. He was the man who built the first ships for Ted Arison and his Carnival Cruise Lines. Read more ..

Destination Lebanon

Greenpeace Investigation Reveals Toxic Coast Pollution

September 2nd 2012

Greenpeace Activists

Ranking a lowly 114 in the Global Health Index, Lebanon was under no illusion that its waters were the cleanest or most biodiverse. However, a recent report by Greenpeace Lebanon has revealed some rather shocking finds about the toxic nature of the country’s coast. From November 2011 to February 2012, the Greenpeace Lebanon team collected a total of 30 samples from various locations along the Lebanese coast. These were then sent to to the Greenpeace International Science Unit in the UK for assessment. The results showed a “a plethora of dangerous and toxic compounds present in the waters [which] represent a serious risk hazard, both to human and environmental health.”

Solid waste problems, wastewater problems and industrial emissions were highlighted as the three main areas causing contamination. In the case of the wastewater and solid waste, lack of infrastructure and management law were the major problems as well as the “immense lag from the Lebanese state in establishing a proper wastewater network and water treatment plants.” The report added that industrial emissions represent a more sizeable challenge as solutions exist in terms of legislation but aren’t properly implemented. Read more ..

Destination Jordan

Cosmic Love Lantern Festival Will Light Up Jordan’s Wadi Rum

August 31st 2012

Sky Lanterns
Sky Lanterns

The Cosmic Love Sky Lantern Festival is sure to be a feast for the eyes this fall in Wadi Rum.  As if the dramatic mountain scenery weren’t breathtaking enough, sky lanterns will rise like one thousand moons over the vast expanses of the desert at 9:00pm on the projected date of September 27. Crafted of paper, a sky lantern, also called a sky candle or fire balloon, is typically made by attaching oiled rice paper to a bamboo frame, and the light inside is either a candle or a fuel cell.  After the air inside the lantern is heated, the density is lowered enough to cause the vessel to rise and fly for as long as anywhere from five minutes to half an hour.

Sky lanterns are traditionally used in East Asian cultures; as per the belief, good luck comes to those who launch sky lanterns, which when flying, symbolize hardships floating away.  Throwing cares to the wind is so much more glamorous when sky lanterns act as emblems, in my opinion. The autumn event will be held near the Bait Ali settlement in Wadi Rum; attendees are encouraged to take advantage of the chic accommodation of the campsite, perhaps extending their Wadi Rum adventure a few days past the conclusion of the festival. A Facebook event page will keep those who are interested informed; the allure of exclusivity entices Facebookers to “join” the event. Read more ..

Destination Tibet

Tibet Theme Park

August 30th 2012

Potala Lhasa Tibet

Just outside Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, the Chinese government is building a $4.7 billion theme park that critics describe as a fairy tale universe that trivializes Tibetan culture and glosses over the nation’s troubles. The construction gets into high gear as Tibetans continue to demonstrate and set themselves on fire to protests Chinese policies in the nation Beijing invaded 63 years ago. The 50th such self-immolation took place this week.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington refuses to comment on the theme park project, or the self-immolations. But Beijing’s official news agency, Xinhua, quoted the deputy mayor of Lhasa, Ma Xingming, as saying the project “is designed to improve Tibet’s tourism credentials and be a landmark of the cultural industry.”

Xinhua said the park, scheduled for completion in three to five years, will be centered on the theme of a Chinese princess who marries a Tibetan king. It said the park will include displays of Tibetan handicrafts, medicine and folklore. Read more ..

Destination London

Europe's 'Biggest Street Festival' Rocks London

August 30th 2012

London Carnival

During a summer dominated by the Olympics, Europe's largest street festival, the Notting Hill Carnival, gave London revelers another thing to smile about Sunday and Monday. The carnival is an important cultural event led by the West Indian community in London.

About 1 million people poured onto the streets of west London during the two days of the Notting Hill Carnival. Swamped on all sides by massive crowds, hundreds of groups took part in the parade, dancing to the beat of pounding music that pumped through loudspeakers. Their costumes ranged from the colorful and extravagant to the surprising and surreal.  The members of a group called "Chocolate Nation" arrived splattered head to foot in melted chocolate. I accompanied one band, called Jamboulay Carnival Arts, along the route. It is run by Francesca Bailey, who said getting ready for Carnival takes her the whole year.

She has to raise the money, around $10,000, to run workshops, build a float, and get the costumes ready.  But she says she does it to keep her culture alive. "We do it every year because for us it is a very cultural thing, and it is important that we continue with our culture. Carnival is something that began many years ago in Trinidad and Tobago, and it was based on the emancipation of slavery and it has over the years, it has progressed and evolved.  So, it is nice to see that it has come to Britain and really evolved over the years," Bailey said. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

Harassment of Tourists by Mexican Police a New Reality South of the Border

August 22nd 2012

Mexico City mounted police

A friend and I had lunch in Ciudad Juarez last week. For a few bucks each, we savored different versions of sumptuous fish soup. Tasty and flavorful, the soup was as good- and much cheaper than the same food sold in Mexican beach resorts. Feeling fine, we paid the bill and headed out the door of the restaurant with a pair of satisfied stomachs.

Then we got a taste of the reality that many of the residents of the troubled border city experience on a routine basis. Strolling down Avenida Juarez, the main drag of the battered downtown tourist district, we were motioned aside by a group of three men who were wearing municipal police uniforms. Without any explanation, one of the officers demanded to search us.

Since the Mexican Constitution guarantees freedom of transit, and because the officer had not stated a reason for the requested search, I felt the order was out of line. But studying the looks of this particular trio of Ciudad Juarez’s finest, I judged it best not to challenge their command at the moment. So it was, “Up against the wall, mother..!!!”

One cop did the talking and searching while the others stood guard. The active one asked what we were doing in his city, and gave a blank look when we responded that I was a journalist and my friend an academic from the U.S. Read more ..

The Destination Edge

Coney Island Amusement Park Still Up and Spinning

August 19th 2012

Ferris Wheel

For over a century, tourists and New York natives have flocked to Coney Island, a peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean in southern Brooklyn. It's best known for its amusement parks and exciting rides but also features cool sea breezes and world famous hot dogs. Coney Island is only half a kilometer wide, but this “playground by the sea” has been offering giant-sized fun ever since the early 19th century.

It's been a "Big Apple" summertime destination, beginning with its first carousel in 1876, Luna Park in 1903, and the Cyclone in 1927 - reputed to be the world’s first roller coaster and now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wonder Wheel ride, Coney Island’s most visible landmark, has been family-owned and operated since it opened in 1920.  “Dee-Jay” Vourderis works seven days a week helping to maintain and operate the 180-metric-ton contraption. "I’m proud because not only do I have a job that I enjoy doing but I’m proud because I feel like I’m part of maintaining the jewel of Coney Island," he said. Read more ..

Looking for America

The Ancient Roots of New Mexico's Harvest Festivals

August 15th 2012


In a year of drought, wildfires, roaring winds and changing climate, some things endure the tempest-at least for the most part. From north to south and from east to west, New Mexicans are turning out to savor the year’s harvest, prepare for holiday commemorations, pack local fairs, honor patron saints and just celebrate life in general amid tough times.

In Las Cruces, Sunland Park, Albuquerque and elsewhere, farmers’ markets where the consumer buys directly from the producer, are back in business and brimming with fresh produce, homemade pastries, handmade crafts and down-home musical sounds, As the first roasts of fresh green chile send intoxicating smells into the air, mounds of egg plant, cucumber, sweet corn, red and yellow onion, squash, okra, honey and other rich morsels of the New Mexican soil invite a feast. It’s the harvest season, and with the offerings of the earth ready for sampling, fiesta time to boot. Read more ..

Destination Edge

Top 10 Things to do at the Sea of Galilee

August 8th 2012


Did you know that Israel’s famous Sea of Galilee is actually a lake? It’s had a variety of names since biblical times, but in Israel it’s called Lake Kinneret, and it holds several distinctions: the largest freshwater reservoir in Israel, the only natural freshwater lake in Israel and the lowest freshwater lake in the world. (The only lower lake is the Dead Sea, also in Israel.)

No matter what you call it, the Kinneret is the focal point of the Galilee. Its cool waters are surrounded by both sandy and rocky beaches, kibbutzim—including the very first one, Degania (“Cornflower”)—and a huge assortment of historic, natural, archeological, recreational, and religious attractions that bring in visitors from all over the world. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Tourism Stays Strong, Despite Violence in Mexico

August 4th 2012

Mexico crosses

The gruesome violence associated with the drug war has done grave damage to Mexico’s global image, and potential tourists searching for a sunny, safe vacation cannot overlook the 50,000 drug-related homicides that have been committed throughout the past six years. Tourism accounts for nine percent of the country’s GDP and provides 2.5 million jobs for Mexican citizens. The importance of sustaining this industry is twofold in that it is not only an important sector of the economy, but also a shrinking tourist industry will come with the cost of already scarce jobs, with the unemployed being inclined to resort to the illicit drug market as a source of income. The year 2009 proved to be a low point for tourism in Mexico, but since then, President Felipe Calderón’s administration’s attempts to protect this key industry have led to positive and visible results. Despite the drug war’s widespread violence and Mexico’s besmirched image, the tourism industry has continued to perform in spite of the persistent violence.

According to former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, drug-related violence has plateaued at a relatively high level but is not increasing, with a steady 1,000 drug-related homicides per month, which eventually could prove to be a disaster to the Mexican economy. Although foreign media networks tend to concentrate on the violence in Mexico, the rate of homicides per every 100,000 people in Mexico is still less than Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia, and Brazil. Read more ..

Hotel Review

Farmington Courtyard Descends into Pure Grime

August 3rd 2012


It is always hard to write negatively about a hotel when service by its staff is clearly excellent and thoughtful. But on a recent stay the Courtyard in Farmington Hills was truly so filthy, I could advise no one visit until it is cleaned up. By filthy, I mean layers everywhere, from the furniture to the carpets. Particularly grime was the bathroom sink. The one in my room was dark brown around the drain. When wiped with a clean towel, the grime actually came off, meaning that it was not being cleaned before I arrived and had a build up of residue.

Continuing in the realm of housekeeping neglect, the coffee pot in my room still bore the coffee grounds from the previous guest. Indeed, our room was left unmade until we finally asked at 1 PM that someone come in to clean up and make the bed. After that was done, we had to call housekeeping back to clean the bathroom. The sink was still not cleaned or even touched and was left with a dirty coffee cup as well as dirty glasses. Moreover, we had to ask for a second clean cup for morning coffee as that was not furnished when the room was cleaned.

Beyond just grime, the air itself was oppressive. Air conditioning in the lobby was broken and the lack of ventilation was suffocating. The poor staff struggled to cope with their awful infrastructure, offering apologies, courtesies, and stand-up fans. But that did not change the reality. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Dan Carmel--Unrivalled Majestic Views of Haifa City and Bay

August 1st 2012

Dan Carmel Haifa

When most people travel to Israel, they think of that country’s two major compelling cities—Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is the spiritual epicenter of Israel’s historic legacy. Tel Aviv offers the national mad dash to cosmopolitan nirvana. But, there is a third major city that most tourists often don’t visit. It is, of course, Haifa--Israel’s gleaming maritime city along its northern coast.

Haifa is a paragon of cross-ethnic cohesion where Arab and Jewish citizens have lived together as neighbors. Its great bay vistas and muscular architecture, buttressed by a diverse fabric of cultural and artistic enterprise, are exceeded only by its maddening traffic congestion. This is a city revolving ever faster around a multidimensional axis of technology, shipping and boating, Israel’s mushrooming business sector, and the de facto gateway to the country, Galilee and the northern realm. Here you find the wondrous Baha’i Temple with its hanging gardens and iridescent sheen, a spate of museums devoted to Israel’s historic intersection with the sea, an urban-functional mountain cable car, the pantheon of Israel’s technological magic including the Technion University, and of course the front door to Israel’s Golan and Galilee. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Have a Safe Flight, Thanks to Israel's Xsight

August 1st 2012

Runway debris costs about $14 billion in damages yearly. That’s why the FAA likes an Israeli system to detect birds and metal fragments 24/7. Debris on runways causes an estimated $14 billion in direct and indirect damages every year. Lots of people complain about airplane food, but what about FOD?

That acronym, which stands for “foreign object debris,” refers to stuff on the runway – birds, small animals and fragments that break off planes – causing far more dangerous problems than rubbery rolls on your dinner tray.

The Israeli company XSight Systems has swooped in to prevent harm in a unique way that’s already been adopted at international airports in Boston, Paris, Bangkok and Tel Aviv.

Using integrated radar and electro-optical sensors in a fixed installation on the runway, XSight’s FODetect system “was able to detect the objects of various shapes, sizes, and materials on runway surfaces and perform satisfactorily in nighttime, daytime, sun, rain, mist, fog, and snow conditions,” according to a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report issued in June. Read more ..

Destination Edge

Nantucket Island Offers Paradise at a Price

July 30th 2012


Forty-three kilometers off the coast of the northeastern state of Massachusetts lies the island of Nantucket.

It’s the size of New York City’s Manhattan Island, but with about a million and a half fewer residents. Just 10,000 or so year-round - but at least five times that number each summer.

There’s no bridge or tunnel to the island, so you have fly or take a ferry to get there. Its isolation, and the treacherous shoals that surround it, kept Massachusetts’ early settlers away and the landscape wild.

Nantucket was once the biggest and busiest whaling port in the nation - the place from which the fictional Captain Ahab set off in search of the great white whale Moby Dick in Herman Melville’s novel. These days, Nantucket is still relatively unspoiled. It’s a peaceful place with none of the high-rise hotels, honky-tonk boardwalks, amusement parks, or shopping centers of other beachfront resorts. Read more ..

Inside New Mexico

New Mexico's Pecan Growers Face Uncertain Times with Aplomb

July 29th 2012


Observant travelers on New Mexico Highway 28 that passes through the immense, shady corridor of the Stahmann Farms pecan orchard in Dona Ana County will notice something is not the same. “Closed” signs now hang on the large white building off to the side of the road that was once the popular Stahmann’s Country Store, a place where shoppers could encounter not only a tasty bite of pecan candy but learn about southern New Mexico’s agricultural history as well.

Two months ago, the reality of the establishment’s pending closure was gnawing at Eva Valerio, then Stahmann’s Country Store manager.

“It’s starting to hit me. It’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s sad to see it go down,” Valerio told Frontera NorteSur, as the last customers strolled in on Memorial Day weekend to get a few final scoops of pecan ice cream or perhaps a bargain on the rapidly diminishing furnishings and office supplies for sale. “I’m going to miss a lot of the customers. We’ve built a lot of personal relationships,” Valerio said.

A second Stahmann’s store, on the historic Mesilla Plaza, was closed on May 6, Valerio said. According to the longtime New Mexican, 35 to 40 employees in the two outlets were impacted by the business decision, with a dozen or so quickly assigned new jobs within non-retail parts of Stahmann’s operation Read more ..

The Destination Edge

Turkmenistan’s Tourism Dream Stands Empty For Now

July 22nd 2012

Awaza, Turkmenistan

Just five years ago, Awaza stood as a tiny dacha retreat along the Caspian coast where Turkmen could take refuge from the daily hustle and bustle. But the rustic mud-brick cottages that once dotted the seaside have been swept away and replaced with gleaming, high-rise luxury hotels. Dusty dirt roads have given way to smooth asphalt highways and marble sidewalks. Natural beach surroundings have been sculpted into carefully manicured parks.

Behold the transformed Awaza, a luxurious resort town that looms as the centerpiece of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s dreams of building world-class tourism infrastructure in Turkmenistan. Since taking office in 2006, Berdymukhammedov has channeled a reported $1.4 billion into the project, with Awaza accounting for a major slice of the pie. But if Awaza was constructed on the adage of, “if you build it they will come,” one thing is still missing from the equation—visitors.

During a recent trip to the newly opened resort, a reporter did not have to fight off flocks of tourists clamoring to vacation in luxury. The resort’s eight ritzy hotels, rather, were largely empty. The listed prices appear reasonable by international resort standards. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Israelis Cancel Vacations in Bulgaria, How Soon Will They Go Back?

July 21st 2012

Bulgarian Bus Explosion 7-18-12

Thousands of Israelis who planned to vacation over the next month in Burgas, Bulgaria have cancelled their plans, following Wednesday’s deadly terrorist attack against Israeli tourists.

“All the Israelis who bought a holiday package in Burgas, and were due to depart today, have cancelled their trips,” a travel executive with knowledge of Israeli bookings told Globes. “Everyone has been offered an alternative package in Greece.”

According to the publication’s report, 49,000 Israelis chose the Black Sea resort of Burgas as their vacation destination in July and August of last year. At an average cost of $500 per person for a 3 night stay, Burgas is a popular choice for young Israelis on holiday. “All the Israelis who were due to fly today have cancelled. We’ve offered all of them alternatives on the Greek island of Kos,” a spokesman for the Israeli travel site Kavi Hufsha told Globes. Read more ..

The Festival Edge

Boston Symphony Makes Music in Mountains

July 18th 2012

Tanglewood concert hall
Wikipedia Commons: created by Matt Wade

Open-air classical music concerts are now a summer tradition in the United States. However, that wasn't the case 75 years ago, when the Boston Symphony first performed on a former estate called Tanglewood in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. Since then, Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony.

When Serge Koussevitzy, the Russian-born conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, opened Tanglewood in 1937, he chose an all-Beethoven program, including the Pastorale Symphony. When conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi opened the 75th anniversary season in early July 2012, he recreated it. Beethoven’s musical tribute to nature, complete with bird calls, seems a perfect companion to the charms of Tanglewood. Read more ..

Traveling Safe

Beware the Bacterial Yuck-Factor in Hotel Rooms

June 21st 2012

Hotel lavabo

A new study of U.S. hotel room hygiene has found that potentially dangerous bacteria can lurk on surfaces such as TV remotes and lamp switches. These results, say researchers, show that the hospitality industry - the nation’s third largest industry - must move beyond visual inspections.

Researchers collected samples from nine hotel rooms in three American states. Team members checked 19 different spots per room for aerobic bacteria and coliform bacteria, which is associated with fecal matter.

The most contaminated surfaces weren’t always the most obvious ones. In addition to toilet seats and bathroom sink counters, surfaces with the highest bacteria counts included TV remotes and bedside lamp switches, as well as sponges and mops from cleaning carts.

That last finding is especially worrisome, says Katie Kirsch, a University of Houston undergraduate who helped conduct the study, because if housekeeping carts are infected, they have the potential to cross-contaminate rooms. Read more ..

Destination Edge

From Coal Mines To Gold Mine

June 18th 2012

coal mine

Swarms of tourists stroll through the vast facility, taking time to soak in the architectural wonders, visit the high-tech museum, and perhaps to dine at the swanky restaurant along the way. 

Welcome to the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex -- a once rusting anchor of western Germany's coal and steel industries whose transformation has given hope for a brighter, and greener, economic future.

The complex became the largest coal mine in Europe when its famous 12th shaft, built in Bauhaus style, opened in the 1930s on the site in Essen, in Germany's Ruhr region. But the boom times didn't last. As mining ceased to be viable, economic decline and mass unemployment followed.

What was once "the most beautiful coal mine in the world" eventually became the last coal mine in Essen. By century's end, mining had stopped altogether, and Zollverein became a symbol for the region's decline. Essen's chief planning officer, Hans-Juergen Best, was among those who saw gold in the mine. He likens the effort to restore Zollverein to past efforts to preserve castles from the Middle Ages." Zollverein, I always say, is our industrial castle," Best says. Read more ..

Emerging Destination

Somalia Steps Up Appeals to Foreign Backers

June 9th 2012

S/V Quest

Somalis are working to change the image of their country from a war-torn African nation to an attractive destination for foreigners. Somalia, after decades of unrest, is now slowly opening its doors to business with the international community now that government and African Union (AU) forces have pushed al-Shabab militants from most regions of the country. Nowhere is the transition more obvious than in Mogadishu. Expatriates are flocking back to the capital with a new vision of the future that includes trendy shops catering to a foreign clientele.

Parliament member Mohammed Amin Osman says the capital is undergoing a transformation. "Now, business, hotels, restaurants have started opening, roads are building, schools are building so now, a lot of hope are [is] there," he said. Ahmed Jama recently left Britain and returned to his native Somalia where he is opening two Western-style restaurants in hotels that he owns in Mogadishu. Jama says he is using the skills he acquired in Britain to help Somalia prosper. Read more ..

Traveling Safe

Jewish Tourists Kicked out of Jordanian Town by Local Residents

June 6th 2012

Karak castle Jordan
Lower court of the Karak castle in Al Karak, Jordan. Photo: wiki commons.

A group of Jewish tourists were attacked and forced out of the town of Kerak, in Jordan recently, after a local store owner noticed them wearing religious clothing. “Salem Jeradat – who owns a grocery in the town – was surprised on Sunday afternoon by a delegation of Jewish men and women who were wearing the clothing of religious Jews, which led him to throw his shoes at them,” writes Al Jazeera.

It was after this that local residents escalated the attack, forcing the tourists to leave on June 3.

“‘Then the people of the town immediately approached the group, threw shoes and stones, and kicked them out of town,” Jeradat told Al Jazeera. “The people of Jordan do not accept the Jews entering their homeland, and the Araba Valley treaty between Jordan and the Zionist entity does not represent us,” he said. Read more ..

The Destination Edge

White Water Rafting in Lebanon is a Hit

June 4th 2012

whitewater Lebanon

Nobody offers up adrenalin and nature bliss quite like Adventures in Lebanon. Their first whitewater rafting trip of the season on Nahr El Assi – an animated river roaring with springtime snowmelt – commences at 8.30am on Sunday at Futuroscope in Beirut and ends twelve hours later in the same spot. A scenic three hour drive (that includes a breakfast pitstop in Ksara) winds 150km away from the concrete jungle and toxic fire tires to the verdant Hermel Bekaa, where the real fun begins.

Extreme adventure for everyone

Anybody but the super unfit should feel comfortable joining Adventures in Lebanon, whose tour leaders will brief rafters about appropriate postures and techniques to be used during an exhilarating 2.5 hour trip down the Assi River. This promises to be an extreme adventure complete with 7 km of unrivaled natural splendor and no fewer than five waterfalls!

The same company that offers skiing adventures during the winter pledge to participants that experience will be both physically and psychologically challenging, which anyone knows is exactly the recipe for heart-pumping adrenalin that keeps us going back for more. Exerting energy in the sun and water is bound to rev up a healthy appetite, which the company has arranged to satisfy with a delicious lunch at a nearby club before part two of the day begins. Read more ..

Destination Edge

A P­erfect Beach Holiday at Green Papaya in Thailand

June 4th 2012


Even Green Prophets need to get out of the Middle East once and a while. Although you can find the world’s most perfect sand and beaches on the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea in Sinai, or pristine beaches in the Gulf, sometimes we just want something a little different. This February we took one of our beach holidays to Thailand for a month. As best as we could we looked around for resorts that catered to the green traveler and found a few that fit our fancy. We’ve already featured our slow boat ride from Bangkok, and the luxurious hotels on Koh Kamui like Zazen. After leaving Samui, we decided to go to the quieter island of Koh Phangan. Note to readers: Phangan is only quiet a week before or after a full moon party. So plan a trip around the full moon if you want to avoid the crowds. My parents love to party so they took off to the full moon while we chilled back at the resort.

Getting to Green Papaya is a bit of adventure. And that’s what makes it extra fun. Once you are there, tucked away on a secluded beach, you can be almost sure that most full moon partiers won’t find you except for the occasional one that gets shipwrecked or lost. After an hour drive from Hadran Beach (Full Moon Party Headquarters) we wound up a dirt road to be greeted by the Green Papaya sign. Since traveling to Thailand, I’d be promising my mom an Avatar experience, sites with lush green vegetation, overgrown flowers, butterflies galore, and Green Papaya helped me fulfill the promise. Read more ..

Israel's Leading Edge

Jerusalem Plans Massive Tourism Expansion--200 More Hotels

June 3rd 2012

Jerusalem Light Rail Jaffa Street October 2011

A new master plan for Israel's capital includes 200 new hotels, an international airport outside Jericho and expansion as far west as Beit Shemesh and as far north as Modiin.

The brainchild of Australian entrepreneur Kevin Bermeister, Jerusalem 5800 envisions new roads and train service and a band of green space around the city.

Though a private initiative, the Times of Israel reports that Bermeister has met with Jerusalem authorities, who endorse his ideas. The Hebrew date of 5800 corresponds to the international year 2040. “Our plan will create a ring of parks and green corridors that will surround Jerusalem and be scattered throughout the city,” Bermeister told the Times of Israel from his home in Sydney. The green space will enable walking tours, bicycles, and personal electrical means of transportation, and allow easy access to Jerusalem’s centers of culture, tourism, conventions and other events and attractions."

According to Bermeister, the international airport outside Jericho will accommodate up to 35 million passengers per year. Bermeister acknowledges that he will face challenges, among them Arab claims on the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Jewish objections to building on burial grounds. To his mind, the plan aims to improve the lives of all Israel's residents. “Our only goal is to improve the lives of the people who live in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas – it makes no difference if they are Jews or Arabs,” he says. Read more ..

Cheap Travel

Cheap Travellers and Surprising Stats for Tourism Industry

June 2nd 2012


It’s easy to look down on the lowly backpackers when you are a country looking to earn lots of income from tourism. Many Middle Eastern countries rely seriously on tourism for bolstering the local economies, like Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and even Israel. When tourism drops, people feel it. So popular is tourism to iconic sites like the Nile River and the pyramids, or the Old City of Jerusalem that luxury vacations and hotels spring up all around these markets to reel in the Big Fish: you know the rich tourists who spend a week and $300 and per night on a hotel room. Bargain travellers, you know who they are: they look for deals on last minute flights, search online sites like Agoda religiously looking for the best hotel deal, and when they arrive at their destination tend to stay at cheaper hotels and hostels, sometimes working in reception, even washing dishes to subsidize their “rent”.

Tourism ministries haven’t been too keen to focus on these kinds of travelling “parasites” who try to live on dollars a day. Because, you  know, the Big Fish bring in more money –– or so it would seem. Our friends over at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth just sent us an illuminating article based on research that will surprise you about the economic impact of budget travellers.

According to a new book Tourism for Development by Regina Scheyvens, luxury-tourism actually relies on foreign rather than local products, foreign skills like language over local skills and knowledge. The overall effect is that budget travellers actually benefit more the local economies, and tend to interact with local services like public transportation. And contrary to the notion that luxury tourism will trickle down to the locals who need it, the income tends to stay focused in developed locations, and does not go “off the beaten path” as it were, writes Nicole, a regular guest at the Fauzi Azar Inn. Read more ..

The Edge of Architecture

Bauhaus Design goes Underground at Israeli Train Station

June 2nd 2012

Israeli Underground station

Galmidi Yitzhar and the industrial designer Yaksein Eliran won first place in a design competition for a new underground train station in one of Israel’s most vibrant cities – Tel Aviv. Borrowing inspiration from some of the city’s most iconic features, such as its ubiquitous collection of Bauhaus architecture and the Ficus Microcarpa trees planted throughout in order to provide shade and shelter, the pair have designed a subterranean space that swims in natural light.

Combining the color of Bauhaus homes (white!) and the ambience it creates on the street with the fluid, arboreal form of the Ficus Microcarpa, Yitzhar and Eliran’s winning train station design is far more aesthetically pleasing than any existing station. Steel trunks are rooted to the floor while branches bend up under a transparent glass shield that permits natural light. Several of these line the station, which is enclosed by Bauhaus-styled edges. Read more ..

The Biblical Edge

Where is the Upper Room and Does it Matter?

May 23rd 2012

Upper Room
Interior of the place believed to be the location of the Upper Room.

The exact location of the Upper Room, mentioned in the New Testament, is not known nor is it known whether the scripture speaks of the same location in each instance. Today in Jerusalem you can visit the site traditionally held to be the "Upper Room" but it is unlikely that it preserves the actual place where Jesus ate with his disciples or the place to which the disciples went after Jesus' ascension on Mt. Olivet. Acts 1:12 says, "then they (the Apostles) returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying."

Theories abound on where in Jerusalem this room might have been, some point to the lower city west of the Temple, others south of the Temple where the chief priests lived, while still other indications point to a place both near the Temple and King David's Tomb.

From scripture we do know that all of the events from Acts 1:13 through 2:41 occurred in proximity of that "upper room." Later, on the day of Pentecost it says: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." Acts 2:1 Read more ..

Azerbaijan on Edge

Visitors to Azerbaijan wary over Hotels' Hidden Cameras

May 20th 2012

Baku Azerbaijan Airport Sheraton
Sheraton Baku Airport Hotel

No sex under any circumstances.

That's what one local rights group is advising visitors to Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, for the Eurovision Song Contest there next week. The group, Azad Genclik Teskilati (Free Youth), claims "hidden cameras are installed on the premises of all...hotels without exception," and that footage made with the cameras "can later be used against tourists for blackmail." The corporate headquarters of major international hotels in Baku have given assurances that they have policies in place to protect guests' privacy.

But the concerns arose after hidden cameras were used in some Azerbaijani hotels to make secret sex videos of opposition journalists and critics of Azerbaijan's government -- violating their right to privacy in an attempt to blackmail them and silence dissent. In one case, a video of two opposition journalists engaged in sexual acts was later broadcast on a television channel owned by a cousin of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev. Read more ..

Travel Safe

TSA Reports 25,000 Airport Security Breaches to Congress

May 17th 2012

Airport glove

The security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport reported on May 15, although troubling to many, was not the first serious lapse in aviation security and it probably won't be the last to occur in a multi-billion dollar government enterprise, according to security experts. They point to a government report that documents upwards of 25,000 breaches of airport security checkpoints since November 2001.

The Homeland Security Department had completed an initial study to validate the scientific basis of the Transportation Security Administration's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program; however, additional work remains to fully validate the program, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office in July. The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations called a subsequent hearing to investigate airport security after reports showed there had been 25,000 breaches of security checkpoints since November 2001.

Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a frequent critic of the TSA, complained about the security breaches and called them "unacceptable." “We appreciate TSA in tracking and providing that data, but obviously, those are the ones we know about,” Rep. Chaffetz said at the start of the May 16 hearings. “The deep concern is, what about the ones we don't know about?” Chaffetz added that he was concerned that the TSA had not conducted threat-vulnerability assessments of most U.S. airports. Only about 20 of the more than 450 airports for which the TSA is responsible for security have been reviewed by the Homeland Security Department. Read more ..

Travel Safe

Illegal Alien working as Airport Security Supervisor with Assumed Identity Arrested

May 15th 2012

Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole

Department of Homeland Security officials are shocked to discover that an illegal alien held the position of security supervisor at an airport from which United Flight 93 departed on September 11, 2001 and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when passengers rose up and attacked their terrorist captors. In a shocking revelation, a Post Authority of New York and New Jersey police source have confirmed that a veteran security supervisor at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey -- one of three major airports in the New York City metropolitan area -- has been using the identity of a murder victim for about 20 years.

The police source stated that the illegal alien -- whose real name is believed to be Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole -- was arrested on May 14 in his home in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The 54-year old Nigerian had assumed the identity of American citizen Jerry Thomas, who was a murder victim in 1992 in an unsolved homicide in New York City. "Investigators have reopened the case in order to rule out Oyewole as a suspect in the 20-year old cold case," the police stated.

Homeland Security and Port Authority Police are investigating how Thomas' personal information was allegedly stolen by the Nigerian illegal alien. A Nigerian crime syndicate has been involved for a number of years in identity theft and creating fake identification documents including driver licenses, social security cards and other ID instruments. Read more ..

Broken Airlines

Hated Spirit Airlines Now Charges $100 for Carry-on Bags

May 4th 2012

spirit airlines

Spirit Airlines will begin charging $100 per bag for passengers who bring luggage for stowing in overhead bins. This is the first U.S. carrier to impose such fees for carry-on bags. Currently, the airline charges $45 when passengers show up at a gate with a carry-on bag. The rate hike is scheduled to go into effect on November 6, according to the airline’s website.

The change means that any passenger who comes to a boarding gate without having pre-paid for the privilege of stowing their carry-on will be charged at the new rate. Spirit offers a confusing menu of fees for baggage that are linked to the point during reservations when passengers ‘buy’ the option of taking a carry-on bag. Spirit offers to passengers "ultra low base fares" for airline tickets by paying fees only for "the extras they value," the website says. Read more ..

The Race for Hi-Speed Rail

Italy's New 'Bullet Train' Aims to Shake Up Euro Travel

April 29th 2012

Italian Hi-Speed Rail
Italian High-Speed Rail

Italy will launch Europe's first private high-speed train service Saturday, as the country moves towards a more liberal economy.  The move could lead other European countries to follow Italy's example of privatizing rail transport and creating new jobs and competition in the marketplace.

The new bullet-shaped "Italo" trains can travel at a top speed of 360 kilometers per hour. They are run by NTV, a company headed by Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, which invested $1.3 billion. He says the real achievement was having brought about liberalization in Italian rail transportation. "At last, Italian citizens and foreign travelers will be able to choose, and one of the longest monopolies in our country has come to an end," said Montezemolo. Montezemolo says passengers would benefit from the competition.  He adds that the aim is to take a quarter of the market from the state rail network Trenitalia, the biggest employer in the country, by 2014. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Infamous Johannesburg Minibus Taxi Drivers Trained to Behave

April 28th 2012

Taxi Driver Protest
Taxi Driver Protest

In South Africa, minibus taxis are the most used and yet the most dangerous public transport. They account for double the rate of crashes than all other passenger vehicles. It is rush hour for one of the busiest taxi stands in downtown Johannesburg. Hundreds of people zigzag through the lined-up minibus taxis. One passerby almost gets hit by a taxi as it suddenly pulls out of the parking area. South Africans have a live-hate relationship with minubus taxis. Princess has been using them for over 20 years. "I take taxis because to me, it's quick, and it’s cheaper than the bus," said Princess, who is among the 65 percent of South Africans who use minibus taxis every day. The minibus taxis came into use in the 1980s, under the apartheid, to take black workers from their restricted home communities to work and back. But now it is the most available and affordable means of transportation in the country. Despite its popularity, the minibuses have a disastrous reputation for dangerous and careless driving, posing hazards to not only all cars on the road - but the very passengers who support the taxi business. Read more ..

The Race for Hi-Speed Rail

Dreaming the Impossible Dream: Rail Travel from America to Russia and Beyond

April 28th 2012

russian bullet train

The country’s budgets are balanced. Debt is low. Savings are piling up. Russians are getting their pre-recession mojo back. On the consumer end, sales of foreign cars made in Russia jumped 90 percent during the first quarter of 2012 over last year.

In the Kremlin, leaders are thinking big again.

In rapid succession, the government leaked a plan to create a “super agency” to develop the Russian Far East; President-elect Vladimir Putin vowed to spend $17 billion a year for new and improved railroads, and Vladimir Yakunin, president of Russian Railways, promoted a think big plan — a rail and tunnel link connecting Russia and the United States.

“It is not a dream,” Yakunin, a close ally of Mr. Putin, told reporters last week. “I am convinced that Russia needs the development of areas of the Far East, Kamchatka. I think that the decision to build must be made within the next three-five years.” Next year, Russia’s railroad czar will open one big leg on the trip toward the Bering Strait – an 800 kilometer rail line to Yakutsk, capital of Sakha Republic, a mineral rich area larger than Argentina. Read more ..

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