Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Gondola in San Juan

As a lifelong travel aficionado, I am drawn to the far away, to the exotic, and to the undiscovered.  For me, a big part of the allure is the chance to wander nearly aimlessly, and in the process of doing so, to stumble onto something unexpected. 

And when this happens, I’m always eager to share my discoveries, to pen a review of my new find and send it in to the travel guides, to the newspapers, and to travel websites. Recently, however, the joys of parenthood have curtailed my explorations, and my wanderings are more theme park in nature. 

Then I read an article about people who read travel guides, travel websites, and travel magazines.  I learned that a significant percentage of them are armchair travelers, never intending to venture far from their homes, but still hungry for tales of the exotic and foreign.  As a fiction writer, I saw my opportunity. 

I was determined to continue my wanderings, and if they ventured off the beaten path and into the realm of fiction, so be it.  The following are my top ten travel picks for 2012:

1) Barnacle Bob’s BigTop Bluefin Barbeque (Paris, France) – After a long day of sightseeing, visiting the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, why not stop in for a bite?  Just across from Notre Dame, Connecticut-transplant Barnacle Bob has created a seafood sensation you won’t want to miss.  The kilo-o-krab is a win-win.  Upgrade to family size for just 12 euros more!

2) Haunted Muncie (Muncie, IN) – You’ve heard the rumors, now take the tour.  Your expert guide will lead you through the storied streets of this fascinating city.  You’ll see first-hand the hospital where Wyatt Earp almost died, the café where Quentin Tarrantino ate chili while reading Stephen King’s Cujo.  After a brief visit to the morgue, your guide will take you right into the heart of the municipal graveyard, where dead people are.

3) Olive Garden (Rome, Italy) – The eternal city has long been known for its culinary delights, but this out-of-the-way bistro, a block from the Trevi Fountain was a hit with Grandpa and the kids.  Unlimited salad and breadsticks, it felt like we were family.

4) Changing of the Guard at Newark Savings & Loan (Newark, NJ) – No vacation to this New Jersey paradise is complete without watching the changing of the guard.  With all the pomp and ceremony of their Buckingham counterparts, Norm Lubensky and T.J. Mankewiczk punch out and punch in respectively, at the door to this majestic but unassuming bank.

5) Bahama Llama (Nassau, Bahamas) – Have you always wanted to ride a llama along a tropical beach at sunset?  Well, we can’t help you there, llamas are too small to ride.  But the folks at Bahama Llama will hand you the leash to a rental llama, alpaca or billy goat for your own special sunset walk.  Sunscreen is recommended.

6) Sombrero World (Wuhan, China) – Do you wonder where all those great Mexican sombreros are made?  Wonder no more.  Visit the actual factory where 7,000 adorable workers toil night and day churning out sombreros by the truckload.  After your tour, you’ll leave with your very own souvenir keychain.  Midnight tours are available for that unforgettable romantic touch.

7) A Gondola in San Juan ( San Juan, PR) – Never made it to Venice?  No sweat!  Now you can ride in an actual gondola without even leaving the hemisphere.  Brothers Tito and Manuel Hernandez brought a gondola home from Venice, added an outboard motor, and tonight it can be yours to explore Old San Juan.  Add rum for an unforgettable night of romance and song. 

8) Maniacal Mort’s Carnivorous Plant Farm (Mandeville, LA) – If you only have a day or two in New Orleans, then you’re probably better off exploring the French Quarter and the bayous, but if you have three days, you won’t regret visiting Mort’s.  Wander through Flytrap Forest as mouths snap shut all around you, then enjoy a light lunch by the shores of Mucilage Marsh, as Pitcher plants devour both spiders and your leftovers.  Not recommended for children under 40 lbs.

9) U Store It / U Tour It (Sacramento, CA) – Where did all those old VHS tapes go?  Mom’s old bell-bottom jeans didn’t just fade away, and Dad’s Nordic Track was too big for the garbage can. No visit to Sacramento is complete without this double-decker bus tour of all the major self-storage facilities.  From the I-5 overpass to the Business 80 loop, you’ll see it all.  Bonus: first month free with contract.

10) 1313 Hellbound Circle, off the Route 666 Overpass (Minneapolis, MN) – Just a couple of old people live in this renovated pre-war bungalow, but it sure is a scary address, right?

In conclusion, travel writing is a great way to practice your craft, and share your passion with others.  And if you don’t have the time or the inclination to wander the world’s narrow paths, feel free to let your imagination wander.

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California Imagism Gallery said...

Great. I almost have to go to the Olive Garden in Rome. In my fantasy, I order a hamburger and coke, and storm out offended when they don't serve it.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I'd have to drop by Hellbound circle for sure. I love the off the beaten path places too, and you only find 'em by wandering aimlessly.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I'm with you! I love to travel to new places. I've been to Puerto Rico, Los Cabos, Mexico and numerous destinations in the U.S., especially the southern states, but I'm always looking for new places to go. I won't be going on vacation this year but there's always next year.
That's why I'm especially interested in "Haunted Muncie." Not all that far from Cincinnati. Maybe I can manage that. Thanks for the suggestion.

Cora said...

I love to travel but don't do it enough anymore. Now, going anywhere along the Pacific Coast is really enjoyable. My husband and I love to find something adventurous in every trip. One of the joys of life.

Sunny Frazier said...

I was stationed in Puerto Rico in the '70's and there was a restaurant called "La Gondola" in San Juan that had a huge gondola right in the middle, hanging from the ceiling. The only time I've eaten escargot was there.

If you love a good travel book, Oak Tree has just come out with Dragon Sutra by Richard Marranca. Yes, one of my acquisitions. Incredible setting in Cambodia.

William Doonan said...

I love traveling. But I actually spent so much money during the last two years, living for five months each in Galway, Ireland, and then FLorence, Italy, that this summer, I'm not going to make it off the block.

But I did read Dragon Sutra. It's really good!

Sally Carpenter said...

Ha, ha! Great travel ideas. Here's a real one: Bottle Village in Simi Valley, Calif. A woman collected old bottles and trash and constructed buildings out of the debris. Don't know if people are still allowed on the property (it needs maintenance) as the city had concerns about injuries. As they say, one person's trash is another's tourist attraction.

William Doonan said...

Sally, I think there's a house like that on my block. Maybe they should turn it into a theme park!

Augie said...

William what a fascinating article, thanks for the wishes and dreams of so many who would love to travel as you, or from our arm chairs.

Liane Spicer said...

What a great idea. I don't get to travel as much as I'd like either, but there's so much scope right here on the island...

Smuggler's Beach. Forget history, sailing ships and buccaneers. For the hair-raising adventure of your life, hide out with your tour guide in a cave on our scenic north coast and watch the trade in illegal drugs and guns before your very eyes. Free sand-fly repellent included.

William Doonan said...

I love it! I'm planning my next cruise to Smuggler's Beach!