Where to go in 2014? With so many places inundated by tourists, look to places that are off-the-beaten path, off the radar screens, underappreciated and destinations which pose a special opportunity because of value to experience what travel is all about. On the list of travel experts Arthur and Pauline Frommer are Bali, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Sicily, Taiwan and Morocco, as well as novel styles of travel, like vacationing at a university.
Just because something is “new” does not necessarily mean it is worth visiting, Arthur Frommer tells an overflow audience at the 2014 New York Times Travel Show. In this category he includes Afghanistan and Libya.
Among the new destinations are those where their currency has recently plummeted against the US dollar, making them a relative bargain. "It's a sad but undeniable fact that we tourists take advantage of the economic misfortunes of certain countries, and assuage our consciences by fact we are spending money and helping them to recover."
There is no denying that among the destinations that are 'new’ and should be considered:
Island of Bali in South Pacific: This is a predominantly Hindu island, yet part of the Muslim nation of Indonesia. The currency plummeted 30% against US dollar. "The island has always been inexpensive; it is cheaper still."
Turkey - "The political difficulties endangering the Erdogan regime have caused the currency to fall; Turkey will be an unusually favorable destination for Americans."
Two other nearby destinations:
Canada – You probably noticed that whereas the Canadian dollar was selling at premium against US dollar, now you receive 1.10 Canadian dollars for US dollar. That means that visiting Newfoundland, Labrador, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Vancouver and Victoria costs 10% less.
Same with the fascinating continent of Australia – the currency is 1.10 Australian against the US dollar.
Another group of destinations worthy of visiting are those that simply are not yet drawing large numbers of tourists, which in and of itself makes them more desirable because they are not yet inundated with tourists.
Stockholm – You would be one of only few American tourists who go there primarily because they want to witness the governmental policies of an ingenious, unique and novel nature put into place by Sweden. Go to Swedish Institute in downtown Stockholm – English language literature explaining to you the unique social security safety net.
Belgium – is undeservedly avoided by most American tourists and therefore free of tourists – you never feel overwhelmed by tourists. Bruges, reached by 40 minute train from Brussels, medieval district miles in diameter - not a brick has been changed since the 1400s – take a particular walk – “a masterpiece called Belgium” – enables you to look at artworks of Flemish Primatives of 1400s. In Ghent, you will be one of the few to enter the Saint Bavo Cathedral – and can see "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," a unique altarpiece painted by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432, which is a highlight of the Flemish Primitives and a milestone in art history – "one of great artworks of all time, can be seen in quiet, pleasantly."
Holland –areas visited by few tourists, yet at the heart of the Netherlands economy are the the great waterworks which the Dutch have created in the last century to prevent their country from being flooded (and may have new relevance for New Yorkers). "Rent a car in the Netherlands – drive to one end of The Afsluitdijk, the Enclosure Dyke, 17 miles. It was built in 1929 to wall off the Zuiderzee (Inner Sea) from the North Sea, and which, on a day in 1953 when the water of the Rhine River rose, the dyke saved the city of Amsterdam from being inundated by 13 feet of water."
Sicily – Italy is a country that is heavily visited but Sicily is not yet inundated by tourism, so easily visited: Go to the city of Palermo, rent a car and take a counter-clockwise car trip, going first to Agrigento, Siracusa (Syracuse), which in ancient times was more important than Athens, Taormina, a resort city overlooking Mt. Etna, blessedly shy of tourists
Poland – "Amazingly enough, Poland is visited by hundreds of thousands of Americans but almost all are people of Polish descent who go to stay with relatives, and except for them, you hardly see an American tourist on LOT-Polish Airlines, or in the various hotels of Poland." Frommer relates how he spent 2 1/2 hours looking for the cemetery with the gravestone of his grandfather. Finally, he saw that gravestone. "It was an emotional experience. I came with his photo from World War I and delivered a speech. I said he should be happy that all his children escaped from Poland in time, that his grandchildren all graduated college, are happy and safe. And my granddaughter Beatrix said, 'But he doesn’t speak English.'"
Poland has much to offer: the great city of Krakow, well preserved; Warsaw, completely reconstructed after the almost complete obliteration by Germans in WWII, Gdansk, Bialystok.
Mexico: An emerging destination is Riviera Nayarit, a 200 mile stretch along the Pacific Ocean, from Puerto Vallarta, which Mexico has chosen to become the next biggest region for tourism development, "but where today you will be one of the few to stay in locally owned hotel, enjoy a thoroughly authentic view of life of Mexico."
Then there is another group of destinations that need to be called “new” because they are newly discovered: these are important academic destinations that provide magnificent summer vacations for adult travelers. Among them: the famed universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England; St. John’s College, Sante Fe NM; and Cornell University in Ithaca NY. "They are destinations for vacation travel because in summer, they open classrooms, residence halls and eating halls to adults of all ages. You check in for a week at a time and take courses taught by faculty."
Last summer, he and his wife spent a week at Oxford University, on the"Oxford Experience." "We lived in the quad built by Henry VIII – Christchurch College of Oxford. We lived in that magnificent structure and took our meals – three a day – in the 'Harry Potter' dining room.
"We had breakfast in this giant vaulted hall, proceeding for 100 yards in length – which was used in the dining scenes in Harry Potter and on Thursday night, we got to eat at high table where the faculty eats and had wine at our meal."
He took a class on Virginia Woolf and Her Set - the Bloomsbury Group in Post WWI England. "It was one of the most fascinating weeks and is available to any of you." The program is moderately priced, he adds "It enables you to stay in a residence of an Oxford student, eat in the Harry Potter dining room, and take courses."
St. John’s College, Sante Fe, NM offers a summer devoted to reading of great books. You can sign up to be student for one week studying the Peloponnesian Wars, or Dante’s Inferno.
Cornell’s Adult University, just three hours north of New York City, "high above Cayuga’s waters," devotes its summer to one-week courses. "Anyone can sign up without entrance requirements, without tests or examinations. It's learning for the love of learning. They offer a choice of 18 courses in liberal arts taught by the faculty."
Other learning experience destinations come under the category of “shake yourself up”:
Omega Institute, Rhinebeck NY offers "New Age" courses. Frommer took a class in the field of "encounter therapy." "We were told to couple ourselves with someone else, to hug, support them in week ahead. I learned something about myself, how inhibited I was." (He was paired with an 80-year old man.) The program costs $60/day and offers dozens of disciplines and courses from April-October.
Off the Beaten Track
Coming under the category of "Lightly Visited Destinations" of "off the beaten track," Frommer points to:
Eastern Shore of Virginia – a strip of land that jets out from Norfolk into the Atlantic Ocean. "As of 20 years ago, it was primarily rural, rich in Civil War history and now is turning into a tourist destination." You fly into Norfolk, and drive over Chesapeake Bay bridge. "Truly historic, it is only just being discovered by tourists. Enjoy a remarkable time, especially if you go to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge – a federally protected area for Assateague's wild horses in the care of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. You can also see a NASA facility where air shuttles are shot up.
Oregon Coast – one of the last of the relatively undeveloped coastlines of the United states.
Off the Radar
Pauline Frommer offered suggestions for three destinations which are off-the-radar:
Taiwan – Ever since Taiwan broke off from China, in the midst of the Communist Revolution, the island nation has been expecting a takeover. During an election, both the President and Vice President were campaigning for reelection at a parade, when they were hit by gun shots. "What made this moment so important is that for 5000 years of Chinese history, the people had always been ruled by an Emperor or Emperor-like figure, then in 2000, was the first truly democratic election. This [assassination attempt] happened in 2004.
Taiwan has fascinating history – its beginnings were very militaristic It was founded by Chiang Kai-shek who brought 4 million people from the Mainland. But they also brought all the best stuff from the Forbidden City. And today, the greatest treasures of the Emperors are in Taiwan – the olive pit the Emperor had carved into a tiny boat, with doors that open, and rowers –you look through magnifying glass; intricately carved bronzes, 4000 years old. Recent history was a harsh one – Chiang was no pussycat, a true autocrat. His memorial looks exactly like the Lincoln Memorial and you watch the changing of guards that would put the Rockettes to shame. It's a controversial place because of the bad feelings.
There was no Cultural Revolution in Taiwan, so the practice of religion continued - Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism - and the arts. So today, you can go to temples and see the fervency, the joy.
In one temple, you see a line of "babysitter goddesses" next to goddess of fertility; a vending-machine where you pray, insert a coin, and a little figure goes into the temple and brings back the answer to your prayer.
There is a temple with the second largest seated Buddha in the world – complex built in last decade to house the supposed tooth of the Buddha. You enter the temple through a mammoth lion’s mouth.
You also see the other threads to life in Taiwan – indigenous population which has more in common with Polynesian; Japanese who occupied Formosa for 50 years; the Portuguese.
There are fabulous natural wonders, like the Taroko Gorge, on a scale of the Grand Canyon.
Taipei is a very cosmopolitan city with the second tallest building in the world –mind you, this is a city racked by earthquakes. But in the middle of the building, is a massive ball hanging from chain. "In theory, when an earthquake hits, the ball will go one way and building the other and all stays standing." You can visit Taipei's night markets and electronics malls.
Morocco: Morocco has suffered a tourism backlash because of the Arab Spring, which began in December 2010 in Tunesia and spread to Egypt.
But, Pauline says, Morocco is a stable, safe place, with a history of welcoming visitors, embracing its arts and culture. "The French made sure the artisans were given money so they could pay their apprentices to learn their art."
Pauline assumed that her teenage daughter should dress "modestly," and be covered head to toe, "but as soon as we arrived, we saw women in stilettos and skinny jeans. Morocco is a fascinating mix of old and new."
City of Fez – my favorite in Morocco – has buildings so old, they are propped up with wooden scaffolds to keep standing. The city has 1500 alleys and lanes – the alleys are so narrow you can't even drive a motorcycle through, so they use horses and donkeys to deliver goods.
You see arts in the street of Morocco – a thread maker for embroidery; a metal worker. You can visit a Women's Collective to see rug making and learn the technique.
Chowara Tannery has used the same technique for tanning leather since the Middle Ages in outdoor vats. They put skins from camels, cows, goats and sheep into the vats to cure them –an ancient mixture – combined with pigeon droppings and cow urine. The smell is intense (they give you mint to hold under nose). The men work in the same way they would have worked in Middle Ages. The colorings are all natural – indigo, turmeric.
In Fez, Pauline took a culinary tour with a company called Plan it Fez which took her to a honey souk; a bakery that has stood for 500 years, where the baker bakes the loaves that have been prepared by local housewives, which then are returned to their homes.
Buildings that look plain on the outside may have extraordinary designs and patterns inside.
Visiting the markets is a highlight of any trip to Morocco.
In the countryside there are more arts and crafts; you can see goats are climbing trees and visit a collective where women painstakingly crush the oil out of the nuts from the Argon tree.
She visited ancient mosques (nonbelievers not allowed in); rode a camel in the Sahara; visited the seaside village of Essaouira and the market of Marrakesh where you can see snake charmers in the main square.
And for a real experience while getting value for money stay in a grand home that has been converted to a guesthouse, like Dar El Hafsa - $60/night for four; or $100 a night for a guesthouse in Marrakesh.
It's also possible to go off-the-beaten track for a completely different experience in popular destinations like Alaska.
Instead of cruising the Inland Passage, Pauline and her family took a road trip through the Kenai Peninsula in South Central Alaska - where Alaskans go. And not having to rush back to a cruise ship, they were able to take their time - her daughter panned for gold ($50 and she came up with a few grains).
The summer is so short in Alaska, lodging is very expensive, so Pauline's family camped out. she intended to rent equipment in Seward at the REI, but the store was closed, so she went on Twitter to find out where she could rent form a store that opened earlier, and a woman emailed her back, offering to let her family borrow her equipment.
In Homer, her children played in a playground and met some local girls who dared them to run into the Bering Sea and then invited the family to their home where they heard what it was like to work on the Alaska pipeline, "lifestyle stories we never would have heard if had to rush back to cruise ship."
They saw the Russian influence in small Alaskan towns and visited a Russian Orthodox church. They learned about dogsledding, went glacier trekking and saw a massive waterfall which hadn't existed even a week before. And then they took a boat day-trip to see the glaciers.
"Don’t assume you have to do Alaska by cruise – south central Alaska has such diversity – it's a different type of Alaskan vacation."
Tradition of Frommer Guides Revived
Frommer regained ownership of the guidebook series that bears his name in April 2013 and had 7 months to bring out a new series.
"We revived the grand tradition of Frommer guides – intensely personable, controversial,
Also, the Frommers' radio show is being preempted in New York area by the Mets for the next six months, but can be streamed online. To submit a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will schedule a time to call you back during the taping. To stream, go to http://www.frommers.com/podcast/
The 11th annual New York Times Travel Show, the largest trade and consumer travel event in North America, featured nearly 500 sponsors and exhibitors representing over 150 countries (NYTTravelShow.com).
Karen Rubin, National Eclectic Travel Examiner
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