Archive | May 2013

Sweden’s Cinderella City

Splurge on a huge cinnamon bun at Cafe Husaren in Haga Old Town. (Photograph by Hanna Snarberg)

By Hanna Snarberg

Everyone’s heard of Stockholm, but what about Gothenburg?

If you’re planning a Scandinavian escape this summer, think about hitting Sweden’s idyllic West Coast — my hometown stomping grounds — instead.

After spending several years abroad, I suddenly realized how much this area has to offer: a rocky archipelago, picturesque fishing villages, beautiful wild nature, and — last but certainly not least — fantastic seafood. That’s why I’ll be spending the summer getting back to my roots.

It’s a bit awkward being a tourist in a town I used to know like the back of my hand, but the fact that I don’t know what to expect is exactly what makes this trip so exciting.

If you’re planning your first trip to Gothenburg this summer, here are five places you just have to see:

Cruise through Gothenburg’s canals in a Paddan boat. (Photograph by Hanna Snarberg)

1. Kungsportsplatsen
This common city-center meeting point is close to Avenyn, the street where everything happens in Gothenburg. Jump on a Paddan boat to get an overview of the city and its history, spiced up with some silly, but, funny “Gothenburg humor.” (One warning: watch out for the incredibly low bridges on the canals. At one point you have to leave your seat and sit down on the floor to pass under what locals call the “Cheese Slicer.”) Also: Don’t miss the Poseidon statue, the Gothenburg Museum of Art, the Saluhallen food market, and great shopping at nearby Kungsgatan (look for Swedish jeans brands Cheap Monday, Acne, and Nudie).

2. Magasinsgatan
Don’t miss this laid-back area, where you can buy trendy vintage clothes at Miss Ragtime, furniture and textiles at Norrgavel, or just sit down and enjoy a coffee while watching people stroll by. The picturesque Haga Old Town is another must-see. And you simply have to pay a visit to Café Husaren and try their enormous cinnamon buns.

The hip and trendy Magasinsgatan. (Photograph by Hanna Snarberg)

3. Kronhuset and Kronhusbodarna
You’ll find some of the oldest buildings in the city right behind Gustav Adolf Square. The main building, Kronhuset, dates back to 1654 and was once used as a military warehouse. Today it provides a venue for different musical events. You can also buy beautiful handicrafts in this area (stop by Mia Bäck’s pottery shop) and watch artisans at work.

4. Liseberg
Dedicate at least one day to this circa 1923 amusement park, voted one of the top 10 in the world by Forbes Magazine — especially if you are traveling with kids (but, really, who doesn’t like amusement parks?). The park boasts 37 rides, including the world-famous wooden roller coaster, Balder. Liseberg also plays host to a Christmas market (the biggest one in Scandinavia) in winter where you can see 5 million twinkling lights and real reindeer walking the grounds.

The famous fish market , Fiskekyrkan. (Photograph by Hanna Snarberg)

5. Fiskekörkan
Make sure to stop by the famous fish market by the Rosenlund Canal, to sample all imaginable seafood and wine. The market is open Tuesday-Friday from 10:00-18:00 and Saturdays from 10:00-15:00 (closed Sundays and Mondays). The circa 1874 building, nicknamed the “Fish Church” because of its resemblance to a place of worship, was designed by noted Swedish architect Victor von Gegerfelt, and is a sight to behold in itself.

Hanna Snarberg (a Swede) and her partner, Alex (a Ruskie), share their wanderlust on their travel blog, Sam and the Dunes (“Sam” is their lovable pooch). 


Sweden’s Cinderella City


Nowhere is Off-Limits—Choosing a Destination for Your Next Trip

Our world is a topsy-turvy place, with no end of unforeseen events sent to try us. War, internal strife, natural and man-made disasters arrive unbidden and deliver untold disruption and suffering. Headlines are typically so dramatic we often overlook some of the less obvious outcomes. Among these, the death of tourism is generally instantaneous, often wildly out of synch with reality, and historically hard to reverse.

But we’ve come a long way since the days where our local travel agent and the daily papers were our only sources of guidance on whether a place was “safe to visit.” Those sources, both unwilling to put their customers (or readers) in harm’s way, would generally take a conservative line; after all, it’s easy to suggest Hawaii as an alternative to Mexico, or Turkey as an option to Egypt.

But today’s travelers are much, much better informed, and can draw on a myriad of sources when making decisions about whether they should try a “risky” destination. Mexico is a good case in point: it doesn’t take much research to see that the majority of the violence has been restricted to certain border areas, well away from the key resort towns. Reaching out to friends on Facebook or other travelers on Tripadvisor et al you can quickly establish—first-hand, from people like you—that the sun is shining, hotel rates are attractive, and there’s no sign of trouble.

Mexico: usually plenty of tacos, but no narcos in sight.

Mexico: usually plenty of tacos, but no narcos in sight.

Greece is another good example of a formerly top-tier destination fallen on hard times. But now? The days of demonstrations are over, the country has settled down with a new government, and everyone is looking forward to a summer where every visitor will be welcomed with open arms. Not only is it “back to business,” but prices have fallen and travelers have more options within the reach of their budget than they would have found a few years ago.

In fact, tourism is so important to the Greek economy that politicians there are talking about a three percent jump in GDP driven by growing tourism numbers from their current levels of 16 million arrivals per year, to 20 million per year. The Greek National Tourism Organization wants you to visit, and they’ll be using Twitter, Facebook and every other means at their disposal to convince you their troubles are a distant memory.

Some troubled destinations present more complex challenges. Christchurch, New Zealand suffered two major earthquakes in 2011 and saw much of its hotel accommodation disappear overnight. It’s hard to recover from a shock of that nature, but tourism companies and savvy travelers quickly found alternative accommodation outside the centre of town or in neighboring cities; after all, this is New Zealand, and nothing is very far away. Walk around Christchurch today and you’ll be surrounded by tourists who have rejigged their itineraries to spend more time in Auckland, Wellington or Queenstown, but were not so put off by 2011’s quakes that they would miss this beautiful city.

Christchurch: after the quakes, still beautiful.

Christchurch: after the quakes, still beautiful.

Japan is another destination that suffered a catastrophe which we, on the outside, saw as being “in Japan.” Inside the country, though, it was always understood to affect a region of about 50 miles around the Fukushima Power Plant, which, frankly, was never a big tourist draw anyway. But the spillover effect took hold and overseas visitors cancelled their trips to Tokyo and Kyoto, even though both are hundreds of miles away and in no danger from the earthquake, tsunami, or subsequent events at the power plant.

While 2011 was a terrible year for Japan tourism, the passage of time has been kind, and 2012 travelers are dusting off their Japan itineraries, apparently secure in the knowledge that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place. Japan’s very nature—it’s part of Asia, but more unlike the rest of Asia than any other Asian country—means it’s not a country you can easily take off your list of “must-sees.”

Kyoto... a long, long way from Fukushima.

Kyoto… a long, long way from Fukushima.

I have one more destination to consider in this random rundown of “tourism-troubled” destinations: Colombia, where tourist numbers for the last 12 months are up 300% on 2006. Three hundred! The Government’s relentless war on FARC (the communist insurgents) has seen the civil war relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers, replaced by news of economic growth, football, and the evening activities of visiting Secret Service Agents. And we tourists have responded, lured by the beauty—and apparent safety—of Bogotá, Medellin, and Cartagena.

Nowadays, it seems, nowhere is off limits, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the catastrophe. There always was some brave soul who wanted to travel in war zones, to see the hot lava as it spewed down the mountain-side, or watch the revolution unfold. Now that brave soul is being followed close at heel by you and me… and that’s a good thing, for all concerned.

Nowhere is Off-Limits—Choosing a Destination for Your Next Trip

Istanbul Insider Tips from a Local Expert

Licensed tour guide Cem Balsun has been leading tours in Istanbul, Bursa, and Canakkale for five years, offering personalized tours and transportation around his home and showing visitors the effusive hospitality found in Turkey. Offering insight into the culture, history, religion, and economy of Istanbul and Turkey, he also loves to help tourists to discover what daily life in Istanbul is really like.

We asked Cem for an insider look at his favorite things in Istanbul, and here’s what he had to say:

One of the best things about visiting Istanbul is that in one city you can visit two continents, Asia and Europe, all in the same day.

Take a Bosphorus cruise.

Take a Bosphorus cruise.

To save money, I recommend that all visitors who come to Istanbul buy one “Istanbulkart” (It is a transit pass card for all vehicles of public transport in Istanbul; bus, tram, metro, funicular, metrobus, ferry). You must use this card especially for buses because cash payment is not accepted on a bus. Traffic is a serious problem in Istanbul. So, to travel, it will be better to use tram, metro or metrobus to not waste your time in traffic.

Many people don’t know about the terrace of Sapphire Istanbul (the highest building of Turkey) but I recommend it for the largest panoramic view of Istanbul. Another great thing to try is the “Skyride” (4D Helicopter simulation).

It is very difficult to recommend just one thing from Turkish Cuisine but a few of my favorite local foods are Manti (Turkish Ravioli with yogurt sauce), Hunkarbegendi “Sultan’s favorite,” and Baklava (Turkish sweet).

Istanbul night life

Istanbul night life

If you only have one day in Istanbul, divide it into three parts; in the morning check out the Sultanahmet area and Grand Bazaar, then do a Bosphorus Cruise, and end your day discovering Istanbul’s night life.

Istanbul Insider Tips from a Local Expert

The Radar: Italy’s Secret Beaches, Oman Underground, How to Make a Living Abroad

Hide away on Cala Mariolu Beach in Sardinia. (Photograph by Alessandro Pili, Flickr)

  • Italy boasts some of the most stunning coastlines in the world. Soak up the pristine natural beauty of these 10 secluded beaches. [Go! Travel]
  • Beneath Oman’s tall mountains and vast deserts lies an underground playground. Explore the hidden caves of this Middle Eastern treasure. [BBC]
  • Worried about how to fund your traveling adventures? This guide tells you how you can make a living on the road. [Wand’rly]

The Radar: Italy’s Secret Beaches, Oman Underground, How to Make a Living Abroad

Happy 100th, Calgary Stampede!

A race for the finish line in the barrel racing competition. (Photograph by Ross Dance, My Shot)

Western Canada celebrates 100 years of the Calgary Stampede July 6-15.

Vaudeville star Guy Weadick’s vision of an authentic rodeo nods to nostalgia and changing times, now as in 1912. (Even its first program lamented that “the great days of the cowboy have passed.”)

Today a cosmopolitan oil and gas boomtown, Calgary pays exuberant homage to its bucking-broncos heritage during the “greatest outdoor show on Earth,” when residents trade their suits for jeans and ten-gallon hats to party down frontier style and watch top cowboys get thrashed about by angry bulls.

As legendary Calgary-area singer and rancher Ian Tyson, the 2012 marshal of the opening day parade, says, “The Stampede is a connection from the old days to the contemporary Western lifestyle.”

Due to public outcry over horse deaths during the signature chuck wagon race, the Stampede has in recent years instituted strict safety rules, and vets use microchips to monitor animal health.

Must-dos: breakfast on free pancakes, wander tepees at the Indian Village, and visit downtown’s Glenbow Museum to see 18 paintings by Charlie Russell—famed for his rich portrayals of the unfenced West—that also showed at the first Stampede. For a break from the fairgrounds’ mini-doughnuts, follow Calgarians to the Alley Burger food truck, serving burgers made from Alberta beef.

Happy 100th, Calgary Stampede!

#FriFotos: Space Oddity

The view down the tunnel of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. (Photograph Rainer Hungershausen, My Shot)

This week’s #FriFotos theme.

#FriFotos: Space Oddity

Traveling CLEAR: the secure ID program for travelers

Clear skies: The CLEAR security program has expanded to four airports.

Within the past two months, airports in Dallas/Fort Worth and San Francisco became the latest facilities to introduce CLEAR, the secure ID program that allows members to pass through their own security lanes. That brings the service to a total of four U.S. airports, including Denver and Orlando. And in late June, CLEAR received Safety Act Certification from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But what exactly is this program, and how can it help travelers?

Some travelers may recall that in 2009, the CLEAR program declared bankruptcy and closed completely, leaving some 200,000 members without benefits. But new investors have bought the company and relaunched it, with plans for continued expansion. The new owners are even crediting former members of the company’s earlier incarnation, for the amount of time left on their original memberships.

Given its limited reach so far, the CLEAR program will help you most if you frequent the four airports where it’s currently offered. Billed as the “nation’s pre-eminent biometric secure ID program,” CLEAR is a privately-owned company.  Travelers who sign up can use members-only lanes to go through security, presenting a CLEARcard ID and confirming their identity with the touch of a finger, with an average processing time of five minutes or less, according to company officials.

CLEAR membership costs $179 for a one-year membership with unlimited use. Members can add their spouse or significant other to their account with the family plan, for an additional $50. Children under the age of 18 can use the CLEAR lane free of charge when accompanied by an adult member. Corporate discounts are also available.

At Dallas/Fort Worth, CLEAR lanes are located at Terminal E, which serves Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, United, US Airways and Virgin America. The program operates in every terminal at San Francisco International Airport.


Traveling CLEAR: the secure ID program for travelers