Get Away With Fran

October 28, 2009

Architecture travel fantasy in Illinois

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 2:21 pm


I am a bit of an architecture geek. No, I’d never try creating anything, but I do admire the work of others – and have been known to go out of my way when traveling to see the latest and greatest, and old and historic.

So I think it’s super cool that the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is again serving up its Architecture Fantasy Camp in 2010


The camp program takes place at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in the very drafting room where the master worked in Oak Park, Ill., with a program very much designed for non-architects. Dates are March 5-8; June 13-16; August 1-4 and October 3-6, 2010.

As part of the program, which BTW I think would make an excellent holiday gift for any Wright fan, (more…)

October 21, 2009

Stressed in Boston – but maybe a Princess Cruise will help

Filed under: Cruise,Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 5:58 am

Even travel writers have off days and I was having one yesterday. But today I woke up with a new, and better, attitude because it turns out I live in one of the most stressed out cities in America. So I am not alone.

My epiphany came courtesy of Princess Cruises, which has released the results of a Harris Interactive survey it commissioned on – get this – Life Balance (gee, can you tell the cruiseline is based in California?).

My city, Boston, tops the list of  places where people’s lives are not in balance, as in, we are crazy stressed out or, presumably, lead unbalanced existences. More stressed out than Beantown, is Chicago and Houston and rounding out the list is Los Angeles and San Diego.

Cities where people are more mellow. or at least claim to have balance in their lives, are Miami, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth (hot and lively, boring, boring, crazy lively, boring, so go figure).

The survey, according to the surveyors, finds “Americans continue to strive for the ultimate life balance, which includes juggling work and personal priorities” but concludes “only approximately one-quarter of people in the U.S. actually have achieved this goal.” Gee, and you thought (more…)

October 19, 2009

Vodka with taste, from Slovakia

Filed under: International,Travel Advice,U.S. — admin @ 9:54 am

Combine really good vodka, Double Cross, and the culinary expertise of Boston top chef Michael Schlow at Via Matta, at a vodka tasting, and of course you have a winning combination. And for those who say vodka has no taste I say blahhh. If there is not taste (which I would argue there is) vodka certainly presents itself in a sensory way, and in Schlow’s hands even a sensual way as well.

First to the vodka. If you haven’t yet heard of Double Cross you will, if for no other reason than it comes in an incredibly cool narrow rectangular bottle and that it hails from the unusual vodka destination of Slovakia (the double silver cross on the bottle is reflective of the Slovakian flag and there are sayings in Slovakian on the label). In fact, Double Cross is the only Slovakian vodka distributed in the U.S.

And the vodka does not even hail from any place in Slovakia you’re ever heard of. It comes from a 13th century village in the mountains near the Polish border and not from Bratislava, and not from more cosmopolitan Bratislava (Slovakia’s up and coming capital city). The vodka uses locally-grown winter wheat and mountain spring water drawn from aquifers located 200-feet below ground level.

How a Slovakian vodka landed in fine restaurants, bars and liquor stores in Boston involves an (more…)

October 8, 2009

Adoring Chicago

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 3:11 pm

OK, Chicago did not get the Olympics. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan a visit to the Windy City. You should. And here’s a few reasons why:

1. It’s a big city and cheaper than New York.Chicago has all the cultural attributes of a major city including both historic and cutting edge (IM Pei, et al) architecture, an amazing cultural scene, excellent shopping and great food (including in fun ethnic neighborhoods). And on a visit this week I paid all of $118 per night at a very nice boutique hotel in a quiet neighborhood but close to the action, with breakfast and free Wi-Fi to boot. Find that in New York. The hotel is The Majestic in the Lake View area near Wrigley (which is quiet this time of year anyway, the Cubs not in the playoffs, again).

2. It’s cheap to get there. On American Airlines from Boston, I paid $166 roundtrip. Of course, I did look around for the best deal. But with Southwest ( newly flying from Boston, fares have come down and deals are to be had. And you can get there too by Amtrak (

3. People are friendly. I know, I’m sure there are some who aren’t. But I was just there for two and a half days and didn’t encounter anyone I wouldn’t put in the friendly category. A guy at Starbucks remembered me when I returned a second day and gave me a big greeting. A cab driver (more…)

September 11, 2009

Disney does Alaska

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 10:49 am


It’s official, Disney Cruise Line will be heading to Alaska for the first time in 2011, cruising in the 49th state for four months with the Disney Wonder. The weeklong itinerary from Vancouver will hit the hot spots (well, hot in Southeast Alaska) of  Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway.

No word yet on whether or not Disney has snagged a coveted permit to visit Glacier Bay – but I bet they’re sure trying. Most of said permits are in the possession of market leaders Princess and Holland America.

No word either what shore excursion experiences Disney has up its sleeve, but I can’t wait to hear about them. Maybe a little gold panning? Goofy in a miner outfit? Chip and Dale doing a little salmon fishing?

The ship will also be stopping by LA for a series of Mexican Riviera cruises before and after (more…)

September 10, 2009

Free admission at museums in Boston and across the U.S.


On Saturday, Sept. 26, museums around the country will do as the Smithsonian museums do in Washington, open their doors for free. It’s the Smithsonian magazine’s 5th annual museum day event, and it’s a perfect excuse to see what’s new at your favorite museum

In Boston and surrounds, there are 16 participating museums so far, and they include the JFK Presidential Libray and Museum (site of the recent memorial service for Sen. Ted Kennedy), the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the Old South Meeting House and the Lowell National Historical Park.

If you’re in other cities or on-the-road that day, know that some 1,200 museums in all 50 states will likewise invite you to visit that day – for free (but you do need to print out an admission ticket online). Check the listings on a clickable map.

August 27, 2009

New ship cruise news from Germany, Finland and France or Disney, NCL and Royal Caribbean


Lots of stuff happening in shipyards in Europe where several lines are building their biggest, newest, and perhaps most-anticipated (and certainly most publicized) new ships.

First to Papenburg, Germany, where Meyer Werft is building the new 128,000-ton Disney Dream, which will carry up to 4,000 parents and kids (or 2,600 passengers double occupancy) on adventures to the Caribbean, beginning in 2011. The keel has been laid for the latest Disney Cruise Line vessel, which means construction has begun and rabid Disney fans can officially start salivating.

Not a lot of details about the ship yet, but you can be sure Disney has some amazing tricks up its sleeve. Speaking of which, on its Europe cruises this summer guests with big bucks will be offered the unique shore excursion option of flying by private plane from Warnemunde, Germany (one of the ports of call on the line’s new Northern Europe route) to Papenburg to see the Disney Dream under construction. Cool, huh?

On to France, where NCL has its 4,200-passenger, 153,000-ton Norwegian Epic being built at STX Europe in St-Nazaire. The news on this ship is you can now book passage on the ship’s first transatlantic sailing – or at least get on (more…)

August 23, 2009

Planes, trains and moose in Alaska


Today I went biking on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage, Alaska, and about 10 minutes into the ride saw a moose. And then another. A moose family in fact right as the trail passed by some people’s houses, the Cook Inlet on the other side. I got off my bike to snap some photos and then realized they are moose, as in wild animals, as in why is the mother moose staring at me and starting to walk my way? My biking companion and I decided it was prudent to get back on our rented mountain bikes and continue our ride.


The trail actually is right on the edge of downtown, and a pretty easy ride at least for the 15 miles we did (the entire trail and back is 22 miles). There are some hills but the kind that’s long and not particularly steep (though I admit I did walk up a couple of times). (more…)

August 22, 2009

Alaska and sled dogs

Filed under: U.S. — Tags: — admin @ 2:03 pm

In today’s video, 4-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King talks sled dogs, and mushing, and racing, and dogs and dogs and dogs (he loves them). See the cute Alaskan Huskies (even puppies).

August 18, 2009

Take me to the Chena River and on to Denali

Filed under: Cruise,U.S. — admin @ 6:57 pm

If you are in Fairbanks, Alaska, try the Alaskan Ale IPA beer. OK, that’s my recount of last night.


Now for today, we set off on a steam riverboat, Discovery III, complete with red paddlewheel, to explore the Chena and Tanana rivers and learn a little more about Fairbanks. The boat is one of the excursions offered by Royal Caribbean as part of its cruisetours. I should note, you can’t see all of Alaska from a cruise ship, hence the existence of cruisetours that combine a cruise with a several-day inland tour like the one I am currently on. You still won’t see all of Alaska, but you will get a better idea of some of the inland sights (my tour is taking me from Fairbanks down to Anchorage).


The Fairbanks river trip, it turns out, is a well-staged, well-planned tourist excursion for those who like this sort of thing –a few hundred of us watched from the comfort of the three-deck ship’s outdoor areas and heated inside cabins as, on cue, a bush pilot landed a floatplane, reindeer came to the riverbank, the owner of an Iditarod sled-dog camp came out to show off the dogs (which then impressively pulled him in a 4 x 4 at 20 mph) and talk shop (along the way, folks on shore talked into microphones).


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