Archive for January, 2010

‘Twilight’ fans bite into Forks

January 28, 2010

New Moon, the second film in the Twilight series (copyright Summit Entertainment)

What a difference a few months make. I keep reading with fascination how Forks, Washington, has become a tourist destination, filled with young,  mostly female fans of the “Twilight” novels. The wildly popular vampire-themed young-adult novels, filled with teen angst and romance, were written by Stephenie Meyer. Of course the Hollywood films have followed.

The Hoh Rain Forest is the real star here

Wessel and I stayed in this rather dreary and depressed (at least then) logging town of about 3,200 people in April 2008, just before the “Twilight” boom. Forks is the closest town to the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, a moody, rainy, green, wet place of stunning beauty. We were there to interview and photograph Gordon Hempton, of “Once Square Inch of Silence” fame.

With Forks being so close to this well-visited park and also near Olympic Park’s ocean site, Rialto Beach, I was very surprised the town hadn’t embraced tourism. Instead, it was living, or perhaps dying, on its lumbering past.

The In Place sits on Forks' main drag

That’s not to say we didn’t appreciate the place. It was small-town Pacific Northwest at its best. Pickup trucks, down-home restaurants, and unpretentious people. Now the streets are filled with visitors from around the world, to see where fictional characters did imaginary things. We stayed at the  simple but fine Forks Motel and crossed the street morning and night for basic grub at The In Place.

But then “Twilight” settled in on Forks. Stephenie, who almost named her book “Forks,” has this to say on her website about locating the series there:

“For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula  in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest…. And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called ‘Forks.’ It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had named it myself.”

La Push Beach is wild and magnificent

During her research, she also discovered La Push Reservation, home to the Quileute Nation, an American-Indian tribe settled there. We visited that also-depressed area when we went to La Push beach to interview Gordon while he body surfed. (You pay the reservation to park at the beach.) I’m pleased to hear the tribe is thoughtfully dealing with the Twilight publicity instead of changing itself for its 15 minutes of fame, though who knows how that story will unfold.

We hope visitors are behaving here

Forks, on the other hand, has totally embraced all things having to do with Bella, Jacob and Edward. Well, good for them, as well. Get it while the gettin’s good. In a town that had no, I mean no, trace of “Twilight” in April 2008, only four months later had “Twilight” tours, themed dinner specials, themed hotel rooms, T-shirts, and more. Now there’s even a store, Dazzled by Twilight, that arranges tours, sells mugs, magnets, and so much more. And a film documenting the town, called “Twilight in Forks,” is due out March 10.

I’m very thankful we visited before the transformation, but I’m not begrudging Forks its fame. Still, I hope it will later turn to eco-friendly travel pursuits when the fairy dust wears off, for what’s really magical here are the forest and sea, not an imaginary vampire tale.

Advertisements

A short tale (tail?) of a long-dog tee

January 23, 2010

Kids’ version of the wiener-dog shirt designed by Piper + Olive

I’m always on the lookout for cool and clever wiener-dog T-shirts, etc. Much of the stuff out there is not to my liking. 

Well, the good news is I found one for kids that I adore from a new design company in Philadelphia called Piper + Olive. The bad news is P+O is phasing out its adult line. You can order the kids’ version online ($26) or from a store that carries Piper + Olive. All their designs are pretty snazzy, but of course I favor the clever dachshund print.

Sabrina is sad this shirt doesn't fit Mommy

This leads me to part two of the tail, I mean tale. My dear husband managed to special-order the adult version for my birthday. Unfortunately, it’s way too small for me. As you can see in the photo, Sabrina is very disappointed about this. 

Turns out these American Apparel Classic Girl tees run very small. Mine is long-sleeved and a hoodie. Very styling! It’s a medium that fits a size 4-6. (I’m a 10-12!) Because it was a special order, it can’t be easily returned. So if anyone wants to purchase it, I’d be thrilled. Price: $36. I’ll snail-mail in the US (I’m in NC) for free. Contact me directly if you’re interested. 

If you know of any great dachshund tees, please share in the comment section or email me and I’ll post them. Happy shopping!

Happy MLK Day from Durham, NC

January 18, 2010

From our hometown in Durham, NC, here are a few images from the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. For Wessel and me, it’s a good time to reflect on the different cultures we share our lives with at home and away. May you have a happy and thoughtful MLK Day!

These youngsters, called Generation X, had drummers and dancers

I don't know a thing about Cristian Warriors for Jesus, but they looked quite dapper and their chanting sounded very cool

Hillside High School Marching Band has quite a legacy here in Durham

The 100-plus-member award-winning band was the parade highlight

Even the city transportation department got in on the action

Back in Japan, with husband in tow

January 14, 2010

From my column “Where they Went,” first published in the Boston Globe on Sept. 6, 2009

Newlyweds Rick Walter and Kerri O'Neill Walter in Yokohama, Japan

WHO: Kerri, 36, and Rick Walter, 51, of Derry, N.H.

WHERE: Japan

WHEN: One week in March

WHY: “I taught English in Japan from 1998-2002 and wanted to go back and visit some friends and have Rick see where I lived,” said Kerri Walter. “We picked March because we wanted to try and see cherry blossoms.”

In front of the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo

HONEYMOON VOYAGE: In what was also a belated honeymoon (they were married last summer), Walter was eager to show her husband around on his first trip out of the United States and introduce him to friends there she has stayed in touch with.

TEEN ATTRACTIONS: The first few days, they toured Tokyo, especially the teen fashion sites. “I took him to Shibuya, which is a famous, huge intersection with neon signs where Japanese teenagers shop.” On Sunday they watched the famed scene at Yoyogi Park in Harajuku. “Young people come on Sundays and wear costumes; like there’s a famous group of them that dress up like 1950s greasers.” What amazed them both was that the scene has stayed constant for years, as had most of the places she lived and worked. “It didn’t seem like I’d been gone long at all.”

In Kyoto near the Kiyomizudera Temple

FRUGAL FUELING: Staying on a tight budget, the Walters often ate at an izakaya, a bar that serves food. “We had things like fried noodles, rice balls, little fried shrimp, curry rice.” Another destination was yakiniku, where diners cook their own meat on a tableside grill. “Rick’s favorite drink was plum wine. You can get it straight up or in a drink called an ume sour.” To save on transportation, they preordered Japan Rail passes, which cover most trains and buses in the country. “It’s an incredible deal.”

The Genbaku Dome was one of the few buildings left standing after the atomic blast in Hiroshima

FROM HIGHLIGHT TO HARD FLOOR: A bullet train took them to Hiroshima, where “my husband really wanted to see the peace park. That was the highlight of his trip.” There they stayed at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. “They have bath areas with really hot water and you sleep on a thick, thick blanket, like a futon. Rick liked the bath but not sleeping on the mat.” They stopped by nearby Miyajima to see the iconic pi-shaped orange shrine.

Mount Fuji as seen from the Hakone region

FUJI TIME: In Kyoto, they luxuriated at the Weston Miyako. “I got an insanely cheap rate on Expedia.” A view of Mount Fuji opened up to them on the final day. They took a well-known route by car, boat, and “ropeway” (cable car) in Hakone to bring them closer to Japan’s tallest mountain, at 12,388 feet. “I’ve been there a million times, but I really wanted Rick to see it.” The one thing Walter couldn’t show her husband were the cherry blossoms. “My friend said they were beautiful about 10 days after we left.”

Tides Hotel Waterfront? We think not

January 10, 2010

Ground view from hotel to the water

What do you think? Is the Tides Hotel Waterfront justified in calling itself waterfront even though the hotel has a busy six-lane road (US Highway 1) between it and the Indian River?

I and several of my professional travel-writing colleagues say it’s not, because “waterfront” means that a place is on the water — not near the water, across the street from it, or within view of it. That would be “water view.” When Wessel and I pulled up to the “waterfront” hotel, in Melbourne, Fla., where we had reservations for two nights, we felt we’d been tricked.

View from the waterside looking at the hotel. Be careful crossing the road!

Not surprisingly, the misleading moniker was only one of our problems with the Tides.

Overall, their claim of being a boutique hotel is ludicrous. Fauxtique is more like it. Playing club music in the lobby and decorating with fake plastic grass doesn’t fool anyone.

The worst of the offenses? The shower was lukewarm. (When we complained, we were told we should first run it for 20 minutes! Can you imagine?) The wireless service worked in the lobby but not in our fifth-floor room. (We were told it must be a problem with our computers.) The meager cold breakfast was on par with a low-end Days Inn. Every employee had a different excuse for everything. I had to argue for a partial refund.

To be a boutique hotel, one needs more than fake-grass decorations

Adding fuel to my fire, the owners, Landcom Hospitality Management in Jacksonville, won’t return my calls. In my years of consumer advocacy, whether private or public, I’ve never had a company not return my call. And this is a hotel management outfit. Wow.

Why were we there in the first place? I’m writing a travel piece on Melbourne and the “Space Coast” for the Washington Post. Part of the theme is how downtown Melbourne has come of age. After Googling around, I stumbled upon the website for Tides Hotel Waterfront and read it was Melbourne‘s “only boutique hotel,” and “luxurious” at that. I thought it would be a great example for the story. The opposite  turned out to be true.

We've seen much better at a Days Inn

In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen such a blatant case of hotel deception in the US. This will teach me to study Google Satellite and read Trip Advisor first. I would have read these earlier comments:

“It’s waterfront if you don’t mind looking across and listening to US Route 1, a six-lane road. What a bogus claim.”

View from the fifth floor. Water view? Yes. Waterfront? What do you think?

“The advertising overstated the deliverables — waterfront really meant a four-lane highway between the hotel and the water; boutique really meant remodeled with new paint, fixtures, and furniture, but the hotel still feels like a 1970s concrete block motor inn. As an example, breakfast was prepackaged muffins and pastries along with styrofoam cups for your coffee and juice. This is not what I had in mind when I saw the word ‘boutique.’ ”

I would invite Landcom to remove “Waterfront” from the hotel’s name, along with the “boutique” claims — or start living up to them. Shame on Landcom if they keep up the charade.

Florida mangroves create tunnel vision

January 4, 2010

Diane on the well-marked paddling trail

When Wessel suggested we take our kayaks and paddle among the mangrove islands at Weedon Island Preserve in Florida, my first thought was: we’ll get hopelessly lost for days and have to drink saltwater and eat alligator meat (after hunting them with our pocket knives).

I’d read that the state preserve (north of St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay) has two marked paddle trails. But I also know how easy it is to get turned around on the water, especially when all you see are water, sky, and outcroppings of mangrove trees.

A great blue heron waits for us to pass

As usual, Wessel convinced me to put my life in his hands, and off we went, our two Florida-based kayaks crammed into the Honda Civic (one on top, one out the rear), while I had to smoosh myself into a corner of the back seat. You can also rent kayaks right at the preserve through Sweetwater Kayaks.

Ibis colony along Papy’s Bayou

We chose the four-mile loop trail (the South Paddling Trail) over the two-mile up-and-back one. And, surprise, surprise, the trail wasn’t just marked, it was WELL marked. Even I, who can get turned around in my own neighborhood, was able to follow the sign posts, close to 40 of them. What a thrill! Thank you, Weedon Island!

After putting in next to the fishing pier, we crossed a little bit of the bay, then headed into the islands, paddling through several saltwater ponds and over seagrass beds and mudflats. As soon as we saw one marker, we’d look for the next. Sometimes they were a bit tucked away, but we never missed one.

Diane finds her way through the mangrove tunnel with half a kayak paddle

We saw a few jumping fish, great blue herons, egrets, and ibises. The real excitement was the mangrove tunnels, created by the trees and their exposed roots growing so close together that they form a canopy over tidal creeks. At times the passageway was so narrow we had to pull our detachable paddles apart and use only half. This is not the place to be when the bugs were out. In late December, no problem.

Wessel makes his way through mangroves

About a third of the way we pulled ashore at a little park for a picnic, the only stopping place along the trail. That little diversion would have been thoroughly pleasant had I not dumped a digital camera into the water while docking my boat. (Argh……..) The photos were saved, but not the camera.

The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip was along Papy’s Bayou, an area of deeper and open water, where we were greeted by cavorting dolphins. Thrilling! We can’t wait to return — next time with the waterproof camera.