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Of Recent Note

PHOTOGRAPH BY HO JON LEE

Vacation Destinations

With Memorial Day just around the corner, our thoughts are turning to getting the heck out of town. Where to? Well, the TMN readers and writers have some recommendations.

As summer approaches, the vacation days start to ripen, and the world wonders: Where to go? Options abound, but if you’re out of ideas, the well-traveled TMN writers (and readers) offer inspiration for your next vacation hotspot, from Canada to Croatia.

 

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Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada’s most easterly province, and somewhere I visit whenever possible—at least to the Newfoundland part, anyway. It’s an amazing, truly special place with a real spirit of fun and community that’s tough to find in most tourist destinations. Gros Morne National Park on the west coast has some of the best hiking you’ll ever do. St. John’s is a great place to get drunk. The towns have names like Heart’s Delight, Come by Chance, and Dildo. And check this: My friend Christine just bought a house on Bonaventure Bay for $8,000—and there are whales just outside her back door! —Pasha Malla




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Every few years, the many branches of my extended family tree get together for a reunion. We are Irish and Scottish and there are many of us, most of whom are named Jim or Margaret. We take over an indecent percentage of our chosen hotel’s population, and someone is certain to stir up some trouble—once, my underage cousins and I were kicked out of the hospitality suite when security mistook us for gate-jumpers in a room with three kegs. Another year, we really did jump the gate to get to the pool after hours. This year, the reunion is returning to Lancaster, Penn., known to many wearers of fine hats as an Amish paradise. There are many advantages of hosting a raucous family reunion in Amish country, the foremost of which is watching a buggy go by as your uncles and aunts scream “Saturday! Saturday!” into the karaoke microphones. Once the booze wears off, take a tour: It’s lovely this time of year. —Bridget Fitzgerald

 

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I have always prided myself on my adventurous spirit. I spent months backpacking through South America. I drove to Alaska. I was flown to Berlin to interview Gorbachev. And would you like to know where I’m heading this summer? I can tell you, but you must promise not to be jealous. It is a very under-the-radar vacation spot, it is the new hotness, it is a place so fringe that even the Times travel section will dare not tread there. It is Dallas, Texas—home of my family, whom I miss like a phantom limb these days—where I plan to eat enchiladas, drink beer while complaining of the smoke they still allow in bars, and get stuck in traffic. Try doing that on your island getaway, suckas. —Sarah Hepola

 

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My wife, daughter, brother, and brother- and sister-in-law will travel next week from Utah to California for a very special vacation. On June 1, my brother and I will run the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. This isn’t our first marathon, but it’s certainly the most special: We’ll be running the entire 26.2-mile course dressed as Elvis. But we do not run alone. More than 46 other “Running Elvi” will join us as we attempt to set the world’s record for the largest collection of marathon-running Elvis Tribute Artists, at one time, dressed as Elvis, running apart from the beat. If you’re in S.D., come on out and cheer us on. There’s free beer at mile 21! Thank you very much. —TMN Reader Matt Evans

 

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Family holidays close to home were always the best. Compatriots like to motor down past my home in southwest England in search of the busy destinations at our country’s tip in Cornwall. Their hazy image of a rural retreat and quiet beach is shattered by a formidable barrier of wind turbines and a familiarly disgusting jam of cars, sometimes served up with a side of clotted cream and a scone to exhausted holiday makers lounging at the roadside. I hope they’ll always remain ignorant of a certain hidden beach—it’s no Thai commune, but it’s out of the way. And the lengths that they, and I, go to protect it get more ingenious every year. I go back to this secret getaway for quiet nights with fire and friends. I’ll take you when I know you a little better. —TMN Intern Mike Smith

 

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It looks like I am going to be heading to Virginia Beach once again this summer. It should be OK. The whole family went last year, rented a house on the beach, etc. I don’t normally care for things like water, sand, heat, sun, sweat, and bathing suits, but life is a series of compromises, at least for some people. I guess the primary reason we picked Virginia Beach is because it’s near where my brother lives. This increases the likelihood he will actually show up, and not totally disappoint us the way he has in every other aspect of his entire life. “College is for suckers,” he said. Now he’s 35 and makes $9.50 an hour, but he’s very proud of his motorcycle. Virginia Beach is not known to have pristine beaches, clear-blue waters, thrilling nightlife, or particularly good restaurants, but who needs any of those things when you have family. Not us, apparently. —Kevin Fanning

 

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I’ll be frank: I’d always wanted an island. When August in New York City hit, that far-fetched dream morphed into a sanity-preserving imperative. Drenched in sweat, I laid out my requirements: clean air, water, trees (as many as possible), a boat, no electricity, and a view of the stars. My friend and I traded in our work clothes for ratty jeans and headed for a three-day weekend at the Saranac Lake Islands in the Adirondacks. For $20 a night, we had our own private island on the pristine and nearly empty Lower Saranac Lake, complete with a fireplace, a picnic table, a dock, and an outhouse. By day we swam, explored, and dove off high rocks; by night we sat around the fire with grilled corn and spaghetti and looked for shooting stars. The mountains are so vast and the quiet so welcome in contrast to the constant buzz of city air conditioners. NB: We survived August. —TMN Reader Caitlin Craven

 

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About two hours’ drive from Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park is full of towering peaks and shocking abysses. Glaciers abound at the higher elevations, and it’s breathtaking to watch the fog roll in across the mountain and slowly envelop your view until everything about you is soft and gray. We visited for just one day in late July and, after the fog forced us to abandon plans to seek out wide-ranging scenery, found more human-scale enjoyment in a valley full of wildflowers and clownish marmots. —Kate Schlegel

 

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Post-Katrina New Orleans is quieter that it used to be, but Bourbon and Decatur streets seem to have regained a respectable bustle. After a drink at the grimy, grungy Abbey and a fantastic dinner of fried green tomatoes, shrimp, and redfish at Muriel’s, the fella and I settled in at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for drinks, candlelight, and a real live piano player who trooped through frat-boy standards like “Benny and the Jets” with as much aplomb as any Jazz Age classic. The next day we visited the Cathedral of St. Louis and popped into the Cabildo, then had muffulettas at Maspero’s—but not the one on Decatur with all the tourists lined up out the door. We bought pralines and Cafe du Monde coffee (never mind that you can get it at any grocery store these days) to take back to those holding down the fort back home, and enjoyed the silly pleasure of drinking daiquiris from foam cups while we browsed through the French Quarter’s antique shops and used bookstores. Saturday night we avoided Bourbon in favor of the gay(ish) MRB and the gothic, Russian-themed Pravda; after a late, light dinner at Angeli’s, we called it a night. We stayed at a fabulous B&B just across Esplanade from the Quarter, but I think I’ll keep that gem to myself. —Liz Entman

 

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Last summer was all about the awesomeness of Nova Scotia. A terrible drive up 95 from the city, a beautiful (and fancy!) inn in Portland, Maine, preceded by a great (and cheap!) meal at a restaurant we could never afford in the city, crowded camping at Bar Harbor (with meteor showers!), and then we drove onto the Cat. Those northern lunatics have a gigantic car-ferry catamaran that reduces something like nine hours of driving into a three-hour tour with slot machines and 8 a.m. Bloody Marys. Once landed, we enjoyed the hell out of their strange green- and red-topped roads and took in the lush, misty scenery through a lobster-roll lunch in Lunenberg and all the way to a cheap, clean, butch-lesbian motel with a state-run liquor store across the road. Then it was four days of back-country camping and 40 miles or so around Cape Chignecto, jutting out into the Bay of Fundy. More bear shit than people is my idea of a vacation. The hike—the Bay, the Three Sisters, the tidal bore—was even more breathtaking than the Canadian disdain for switchbacks. For recuperating, there was nothing like the Train Station Inn in lovely Tatamagouche, clear across the island (but that’s not saying much). We stayed in a lovely caboose (all the rooms are restored train cars) complete with bathroom and cupola, and dined on a surprisingly perfect steak from the dining car next, uh … door? “America’s hat” is clearly also the brains of the operation. —TMN Reader Jon Fin

 

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Today in New York, I took a pair of pants back to the tailor who had hemmed them because she made the right side half an inch longer than the left. Her response: “Your right leg is shorter than your left.” Go to Chicago. It’s Midwestern, so the people are nicer. Plus, the lake it’s on is so big it looks like an ocean. I know we’re all super cool and desensitized to everything, but seriously: How effing amazing is that? To add to that, in Millennium Park downtown there’s a multiple story silver sculpture of a bean that’s so shiny and reflective it’s hard to tell where the bean ends and the sky begins. Chicago is a town out of a fairy tale, except with more bars. —Lauren Frey

 

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Mount Desert Island: Come see America’s only natural fjord. Or the largest national park in the Northeast. Eat lobster and popovers, and sunbathe on all-rock beaches. Do like my grandfather and drink warm clam broth at breakfast all summer long. Hell, use summer as a verb. Really, nowhere on earth is lovelier. My wife has instructions to scatter my ashes off MDI; if I can’t live there year-round now, at least I’ve a shot down the road. —Rosecrans Baldwin




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Quiet, flat, green, windy: Hochatown, Okla., in the far southeast of the state, makes it easy to catch up on your own thoughts, though you might prefer trying to fathom the thoughts of the people who live there. Why does the general store sell ammo next to the ice cream case? Why is each rooster in the field chained to his personal aluminum kennel? Despite all this, why is everyone so damn nice all the time? You can eat Mexican food that resembles Taco Bell like Oklahoma resembles New York City, you can listen to wolves stalking (futilely, the locals promise) outside your cabin at night, and in vain you can try to perfect that certain twang needed to correctly pronounce it: “Hochatown.” —TMN Intern Nozlee Samadzadeh

 

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If you’re looking to travel a little farther away than you did last year, you should look at Uruguay and Argentina. I spent my holiday vacation there, and it was gorgeous—beautiful people, delicious food, fantastic wine and coffee, and an exchange rate that still gives your dollars enviable purchasing power. Buenos Aires is an international, cosmopolitan city on the level of Rome or Madrid. And hop a short ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata and you can visit Uruguay, whose serene countryside and beautiful beaches deserve to be appreciated in their own right. Perhaps best of all, since they’re in the Southern Hemisphere, the climate will be pretty temperate for the next several weeks before winter sets in. —TMN Reader Frank Vargas

 

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There are a total of 16 lakes at the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s about an eight-hour bus ride north of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and to get there you have to wend along the Dalmatian Coast for a while before the road begins to wander inland—teetering over the Bosnian border and back, until you’re there. From the surrounding cliffs, the water is turquoise, cerulean, sometimes gorgeously gray, and the surrounding shores are packed with chandelier bursts of green. Wood-slated bridges creak under you, leading sinuously through a massive Jurassic Eden that’s humming and fluttering with activity. Highlights include loquacious frogs, white waterfalls, and big slugs in the middle of the path. Oh, and the Serbians planted landmines in the woods during the Balkan wars—so you’re supposed to stay on the trail. No swimming, either. You spend a lot of time scaring fish away, and whooping in caves. It’s great. —TMN Intern Matt Robison

 

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Austin is my kind of city. Young, liberal, and laid-back, but still permeated by many of the classic aspects of Texan culture. Good barbecue and Mexican food everywhere you turn, live music up the wazoo, and great swimming weather (or, perhaps more aptly, weather that necessitates great swimming). And although Austin is growing fairly rapidly, it doesn’t feel overcrowded, nor does it seem terribly expensive. Outside of Austin is the serene and beautiful hill country, certainly worth a day’s drive in any direction. We went out to Fredericksburg, a quaint and quirky 19th-century German settlement about an hour’s drive west, then climbed nearby Enchanted Rock (there was no wizard at the top, to my disappointment). To cap off the day, we moseyed up to Llano for just about the best damn barbecue we’ve ever tasted at Cooper’s, and then swam off our food comas at the Eden of all swimming holes, Krause Springs. I must admit there were a few local customs that threw me for a loop. While out to dinner at Lambert’s, I squirmed uncomfortably as Andrew ordered and proceeded to devour the Lemon Sorbet Pork Rib. Andrew may claim that I ordered it FOR him and then ended up eating it myself. If he tries to tell you that … just ignore him. —Eric Feezell
 

TMN’s Contributing Writers know where to find the purple couch. Long live the pan flute, mini mafia, and Michael Jackson. More by The Writers