Good Eatin': TAG

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Denver, Colorado

"Continental social food," the slogan of TAG restaurant in Denver, could hardly be more apt. With menu items that extend from sushi tacos with guacamole through meat loaf friended by bokchoy and kimchi, grilled lamb with Bambino watermelon, and Kobe sliders with irresistible duck fat fries, to salmon served in the company of spring ramps, shiitakes, English peas, cured wild boar, Meyer lemon confit and umami butter, comfort food has never been so edgy.

TAG’s barkeeps follow the same fresh, seasonal path trod in the kitchen by chef and owner Troy Guard. Some classics like daiguiris and stingers are delivered straight, but most, like the Kumquat-Jalapeño Mojito, receive a TAG twist. Also, since many of the bar's concoctions depend on seasonal ingredients, every visit is likely to be greeted with a surprise, and not one not limited to mixed drinks:TAG restaurant, Denver CO the Bazi Shot is an energy swallow packing 12 vitamins and 68 minerals, and there's house-made ginger ale and a TAG-branded coconut soda. The beverage menu matches the lets-give-it-a-shot attitude emanating from the galley.

I never pass anywhere near Denver without a visit to TAG. It's the only way to find out what happens if, say, the flavors of yuzu, jalapeño and Pop Rocks find their way onto the same plate. Desserts -- peanut butter partfait, for example, with caramel, bittersweet chocolate and Nutella marshmallow ice cream -- prolong the adventure. Tag also has a raw bar and is open for lunch and dinner (social -- a.k.a., happy -- hour is 2-6 pm). TAG, 1441 Larimer St., Denver CO 303-996-9985.

Lodging: Unique Hotels Around the World

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Unusual Hotels of the World is a guide to one-of-a-kind lodging experiences, hotels so unique -- underground, made of ice, up a tree, underwater -- that they themselves become the reason to travel to a particular destination. Some of the 233 properties profiled on the site are well-known, but many will be new to the majority of travelers.
Unusual Hotels of the World offers 'experiential' hotels. Safariland Treehouse Resort as seen on Unusual Hotels of the World Staying there is worth the trip, which will often be long and arduous, and delivers the guest a memorable and hopefully enjoyable experience. Some are luxurious, some are not, and throughout the guide you will find a range of choices to suit the budgets of every traveler.
Visitors can search for lodging by experience ("arty," "bling," "family," "romance," "thrill," "wild"), type of facility (castles, oases, igloos, boats, cabooses, lighthouses, wigwams, prisons, caves, and so on) and location on the planet. The website regularly updates its entries based on visits by the editors and feedback from hotel guests. People who sign up as members of the site receive a newsletter that includes promotional deals and offers from the associated properties.

Site: Unusual Hotels of the World

Packing: Tips to make travel easier, safer & stress-free

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If you're tired of being mistaken for the Joads when you travel, you already suspect that traveling lighter would be traveling better. And yet, as this exhaustive site demonstrates, there's a lot more to the art and science of traveling light than jamming as much as possible into one humungous handbag., a frequently updated reference guide to "going pretty much anywhere, for an indefinite length of time, with no more than a single carry-on-sized bag," has a wealth of practical, field-tested advice for over-burdened travelers.

As author Doug Dyment writes, of "all the travel skills you might acquire, learning to travel light is the one most likely to result in enjoyable, productive, stress-free travel experiences." Less luggage means fewer opportunities theft, damage, mis-routing or How NOT to pack your luggagefinding out the hard way that you have been the unsuspecting mule for drugs or contraband goods.

Carrying only one bag can be a real money-saver, too. You can use public transit more easily, cut back on tithing cabbies, bellhops and baggage handlers, and avoid the increasingly exorbitant airline luggage fees.

And with lighter traveling comes more flexibility:
Less stuff means greater mobility, which gives you more travel options. With no checked luggage to limit your choices, you can more easily deal with delayed transportation and missed connections (you can even switch to earlier flights when space is available). You needn't arrive at airports as early, and you will be among the first to leave, while others wait for baggage delivery and long inspection queues. You can board trains, trams, and coaches with alacrity. You won't feel compelled to take the first hotel room offered: you can comfortably walk down the street should the ambiance be unsuitable or the price unreasonable. You can sell your airplane seat (by volunteering to be "bumped") on full flights. You can even travel as an air courier.
Among many useful pages on highlights include Using A Packing List, a detailed analysis of every individual item on Dyment's personal packing list, a checklist of things to take care of prior to leaving on a trip, contact information for suppliers of harder-to-find items he mentions, a short list of recommended books on related topics, links to some carefully-chosen sites that OneBag enthusiasts are likely to find interesting, Dyment's own compilation of travel industry links to airlines, hotels and automobile rentals, plus the best metasearch engines, handy lists of country/airport/airline codes, and tools for checking real-time flight status, airport delay conditions, and aircraft seating arrangements.

Dyment keeps track of content changes here, and site updates can be followed also via Facebook, Twitter or RSS feed.

For travelers, may be the single most useful destination on the internet.


Readin', Writin' & Ramblin': Travel Books & the Lit'ry Life

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Since 1998, a lifetime in Web years, Literary Traveler has anthologized travel books and essays with artistic ambitions, and arranged literary tours and literary events for readers who like to travel and travelers who like to read.

The many dozens of literary articles and travel profiles by and of famous writers are arrayed alphabetically from Louisa May Alcott to W.B. Yeats. A list of recently added authors, for example, includes Joseph Reading iconConrad, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Edward Gorey, Victoria Hislop, Che Guevara, Naguib Mahfouz and Mario Vargas Llosa. A sampling of recent articles -- Of Dreams and Dolls: American Girls and the Spirit of Exploration; Colin McPhee's Musical Life in Bali; Karl Marx's Revolutionary Brussels; Jim Morrison & Lipstick Kisses at Oscar Wilde's Pere-Lachaise; Origins of Crime & Justice in James Patterson's Washington DC; The Real Story Behind Dickens' A Christmas Carol; Shirley Jackson's Outsider Perspective of Bennington, Vermont -- reveals the range of interests explored by the site's contributors.

In the nature of things, most of the familiar names are in the public domain, but so what?; there are endless hours of classic travel writing on the site, including a series on Ernest Hemingway and Ernest Hemingway's Places, interviews with well-known writers like Alan Lightman, and links to recommended volumes for purchase.

Primarily or at least most usefully a subscription site, Literary Traveler offers two types of memberships: free and paid. A free subscription provides limited access to many of the articles; an all-access premium account including a monthly newsletter costs $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year.

Site: Literary Traveler

Let Me Stay for a Day: An inspiration to detourists everywhere

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If anyone deserves to be called The Godfather of Couchsurfing, it's Dutch author Ramon Stoppelenburg. He grasped earlier than most the personal networking opportunities made possible by the world wide web.

One of the first Dutch bloggers, in early of 2001 Stoppelenburg started a website called Let Me Stay for a Day with the intention of cadging free places to crash as a means of underwriting his travel ambitions. Ramon Stoppelenburg, The Godfather of CouchsurfingThe plan worked out better than he could have anticipated: in short order, he had 3,577 invitations from 77 countries. Leaving home with no more than "a backpack filled with clothing, a digital camera, a laptop, and a mobile phone," for nearly two years, as he writes in Dutch-inflected English, he "traveled the world WITHOUT ANY MONEY, visiting people who invited me over through this website. I crossed distance with my thumb or with help of sponsors and supporters. In return for all support I wrote about this all in my daily reports on this website."

By the time he shut down the project in 2003, Stoppelenburg had visited The Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, Austria, The Isle of Man, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia and Canada, with all expenditures -- even airline tickets -- sponsored or donated by his followers: the former student, then in his mid-twenties, had found a way to become a seasoned world traveler for the cost of a $35 website domain registration.

During his travels, Stoppelenburg published columns weekly in the Dutch daily newspaper Spits, in addition to the 7,000 photos and over 550 reports he posted to his website. You won't be surprised that turned into a book that the author is currently translating into English. Since June 2008, he's been conducting walks up Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. And in September 2010 he relocated to Phnom Penh, where he runs a movie theater playng American and European pictures and is organizing a European Cooking Trip that starts in the summer of 2011. He posts updates on his activities to his current blog.

Some of the American media may think of Ramon Stoppenlenburge as "the notorious Dutch freeloader," but out here on the road he's a hero to detourists and armchair adventures everywhere.

Lodging: "Let's talk about hotels"

"Let's talk about hotels" is the cut line for the blog where Guillaume Thevenot reports on topics associated with hotels, b&bs, and travel-related businesses. GuillaumeThevenot of Hotel BlogsHotel Blogs provides links to travel professionals, services and websites, plus tips on social media marketing for the hospitality industry. A regular feature is Q&As with CEOs of companies like Hotel Tonight, a company that offers same-day hotel bookings on iPhones, online marketing consultant for hotels e-conceptory, and menumodo, a hosted content management tool for creating, updating and distributing restaurant menus.

Site: Hotel Blogs

Air Fares: Starting your search

Getting the best fares usually means visiting several often-overlapping sites, including those of the airlines servicing the route you're researching, to see who is reporting the lowest fares. As a place to begin, The Detourist usually starts its searches with Airfarewatchdog, an automated fare-comparison site that offers easy access to information about specific routes, destinations and sales.

One section, Top 50 Fares, tracks special, usually time-sensitive deals. This morning, for example, the top offers range from $18 round trip between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (LAX-LAS) on Spirit, the flying bus line (actually, this is an unfair comparison, since buses are roomier, now usually provide wireless access, and have no hidden charges) to $158 r/t flight between Baltimore and Austin (BWI-AUS) on Continental, American, Delta and United. As always, watch for surprise fees.

Airfarewatchdog, part of the company that owns BookingBuddy, OneTime, SmarterTravel and the flash-sale travel site Sniqueaway, was created by George Hobica, a travel journalist specializing in consumer issues.


Good Eatin': Not so much


After hearing a bezillion times how great it is, I made a detour to the The Grill at Hacienda del Sol. Except for the setting -- in the restored and renovated Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort that was once a Roaring 20s-era school for daughters of the super rich -- the restaurant was otherwise remindful of St. Estephe, the legendary Southwest Fusion eatery of the 1980s that was unaccountably cloistered in a Manhattan Beach mall. At a time when there were possibly six decent restaurants in all of L.A. County, St. Estephe concocted sometimes delicious, often fanciful, always outrageously priced creations that took Hispanic-American food to places it had never been before.

(You might have ordered "chips and salsa," for example, and been served a dinner plate with a thin layer of red and green sauces deployed in the pattern of the holism symbol and graced with a single taco chip in the form of a dove. This was before anyone knew what a "plate" was, so the place definitely was cutting-edge, but as admirable as its efforts may have been as art, they left something to be desired as, well, food. And it was damnably expensive. You'd wonder if the boys in the back got a bigger kick out of sending out their latest caprices or the bill.)

The Grill at Hacienda induced St. Estephe flashbacks. The menu is replete with components like shrimp chorizzo, parmesan foam, pancetta dust, micro egg yolk, jalapeno-blueberry jam, yam and smoked gouda gratin, charred tomatoes and, I kid you not, "heirloom" beans. Normally this kind of menu -- small portions, unusual tastes -- is right up my alley, but Hacienda del Sol's eclecticism just comes across as pretentious. I can't say the food overall is bad (although the chorizo con pappas was positively insulting), but it lived up to neither its aspirations nor its prices (and lets face it, when you're blown away by a meal you don't even notice how much it costs).

There are plenty of first-rate restaurants in Tucson. You needn't go out of your way for this one.

Lodging: Social media-enhanced search engine

realtravel social media hotel recommendationsThe specialized search engine Real Travel brings the benefits of social media aggregation to the work of finding hotel lodging. Combining real-time pricing and availability data, Facebook "likes," and hotel reviews from across the web, Real Travel simplifies hotel search. You'll find hotel ratings, an easy-to-use price comparison tool, property photos, location information, information about nearby attractions, and advice from fellow travelers about lodging and "things to do." Unquestionably one of the more useful travel tools.

Los Angeles: Hip movie rental store starts a extension program

Next month, Vidiots, a venerable indie video outlet in Santa Monica, introduces a film studies program taught by industry pros, critics and academics. Register now for four-, five-, or six-week series ($128-$192) or for individual classes ($40) in the new Vidiots Annex, 302 Pico Boulevard, next to the store between Third and Fourth Streets across from the Santa Monica Civic parking lot. A Saturday night film club includes a discussion afterward. 310-392-8508;

Time Travel: Long, long ago and not so far away, the streets were as diverse as the communities they knitted together

In most parts of the industrialized world, the streets have been surrendered to motorized vehicles. Many municipalities in the United States make half-hearted efforts to support bicycles as transportation by providing bike lanes to nowhere and hanging signs admonishing the SUVs to "Share the Road" and a few -- downtown San Francisco; Boulder -- do considerably more, but nowhere have they gone as far as Flanders and the Netherlands at integrating pedestrians and non-powered vehicles into the traffic mix. The Dutch even have a name for it: A woonerf is a street that is not closed to cars and buses but one where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists.
Here's how urban streets used to look:

As these wonderful movies show (the San Francisco trolley ride is from 1906), when automobiles first arrived on the scene they joined pedestrians, bicycles, horses, buggies and wagons, trolleys and buses in the busy streets. Not only was this mix of uses more pleasant, there is evidence (visit Linda Baker's Salon article for background) that it was also safer than the current surrender of the streets to motorized carnage.

Further reading: Why don't we do it in the road? A new school of traffic design says we should get rid of stop signs and red lights and let cars, bikes and people mingle together. It sounds insane, but it works by Linda Baker (Salon 2004-06-20)

Connectivity: Hotel WiFi Is a Right, Not a Luxury

"What gives with hotel WiFi?

"This is a ten-year-old technology that has improved in speed and quality nearly everywhere — in homes, in offices, in public spaces, in coffee shops, in airports — even on planes. You can even get free WiFi at Krystal, a fast food chain that’s on par with White Castle and sells hamburgers for less than $1 each. Over the past two years I’ve stayed at more than two-dozen hotels around the United States and the emerging world. I’ve noticed a trend that seems to fly in the face of basic economics and technology adoption: The pricier and fancier hotel, generally the worse quality the WiFi, if it exists at all."

The rest of the story: Hotel WiFi Should Be a Right, Not a Luxury by Sarah Lacy (TechCrunch 2010-01-01)

Security: Thwarting would-be thieves

Unsuspecting travelers face an obstacle course of scams, cons, and rip-offs. Opportunistic thieves lie in wait. Strategists create their own opportunities. Devilish scams are designed to divert your attention, even against your will. In the places people love to visit most, pickpocketing, con games, credit card scams, and identity theft have increased dramatically. Thiefhunters offers a backdoor-perspective on the techniques of the most underhanded scoundrels. -- from Thiefhunters in Paradise.

More: Theft Thwarter Tips

Good Eatin': Tango Restaurant & Lounge

You have to be pretty far off the beaten path these days not to have access to gourmet dining. Not that regional and ethnic food doesn't keep us well fed and happy, but it is reassuring to know that there is no longer a corner of the Union that doesn't have at least one place offering high quality cuisine and a decent wine list.

In Escondido, CA that place is Tango, a full service eatery, lounge and wine bar. Nationally acclaimed chef Rico Bartolome offers a constantly changing array of Dining in Escondido, CAfusion dishes, on my last visit including tempura oysters (on arugula with a remoulade), a duck comfit (rhubarb jam, strawberries, goat cheese and candied pecans), and an amazing korean hot pot (miso-marinated sea bass, shrimp, kimchee, bok choy and assorted mushrooms in dashi). Applying classic European kitchen techniques to Pacific Rim-influenced dishes made of fresh seasonal ingredients results in offbeat creations from chorizo-wrapped loin of venison with chimichanga and mole through osso bucco with panang curry to pistachio duck schnitzel with sweet and sour cabbage. The wine list is always well-selected. Desserts change daily (think sugar pumpkin and mascarpone cheesecake with spicedBest restaurant in Escondido, CA whipped cream or crêpe stuffed with chocolate, banana fritter and banana ice cream), and last visit fresh pies to go were by the cashier. Lunch Monday to Friday and dinner every day. Monday to Thursday, $25 sunset prix fixe dinners are available. Happy hour 4-7 every day but Monday, when it's 4 to closing. Half price wine on Wednesdays. Events nightly in the lounge. There's a private dining room for parties of 10-30, and you can dine on the patio weather permitting. Despite the sometimes brutal desert heat, this is one place worthy of abandoning the comforts of the coast. Tango is at 417 W Grand Ave in Escondido; 760-747-5000;

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