The MSN Traveler

Literature often proves the best travel guide

By CraiSBower May 13, 2013 2:08PM

I wish I read more books--like anyone with three kids, 50-plus-hour work weeks, a mortgage, and a garden. These days, I don’t possess much patience for fiction, my café days reading Joyce, Heaney and Yeats well behind me. It isn’t that I don’t love fiction, but I’ve reached that age where I feel compelled to learn something concrete when I read. Still no genre, including travel guides, compares to literature for gaining insight into a new country.

But how do I, as an English minor who loves literary history, prepare for my first extensive trip to Ireland?  And how do I avoid feeling completely overwhelmed, surmounting impossible tasks such as a rush through “Ulysses” or an attempt to skim Yeats as if I were reading the back of my McCann’s Irish oatmeal box?

I’ve chosen to reread Seamus Heaney’s poetry and “Stepping Stones,” a book length interview with the Nobel laureate. Like most great literature, Heaney’s poems and biography provide a comprehensive triptych through his homeland.

From “Stepping Stones,” I’ve learned about the ambivalence many rural Catholics felt toward the “Troubles,” as well as the poet’s inner conflicts teaching in Belfast’s “Queens University” and portrayed as the Ulster clarion to the world.

Whether choosing Balzac for Paris or Joyce before Dublin, literature captures more than history and landmarks. One line, “It is the drums preside, like giant tumours” from Heaney’s “Orange Drums, Tyrone 1966” takes us into the heart of his people during this tragic period of sectarian violence.

Reading literature also provides much more color than simply political insight. Yeats captures Ireland’s magic, in one couplet from “The Rose” collection:

“And from its murmuring greenness, calm of Faery, a Druid kindness, on all hearers fell.”

Who, having read these lines, would not feel enticed to travel into Ireland, without a travel guide in sight?

Images courtesy of Crai S Bower.


Designing Love's CEO sings Pittsburgh's praises

By Chelsea Lin May 10, 2013 8:00AM

Neal Holmes is a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac—his company, Designing Love, Inc., helps the lovesick plan spectacular dates to woo their prospective partners. The Pittsburgh local has traveled the world and worked as a concierge, educator, and counselor; now, he gets to put all those skills into play in his non-profit game of love. What does Holmes love most about the Steel City? Read on:



Travel blogger and brown-booze aficionado Kristin Luna gives tips for a successful tour

By Chelsea Lin May 9, 2013 12:44PM

Maker’s Mark bourbon and ginger ale is a simple cure for all that ails—at least in this household. And while my go-to cocktail’s main ingredient can be found in nearly any grocery story, that sweet, brown elixir is distilled nearly 2,000 miles from my Pacific Northwest abode.


Maker’s is among seven major distilleries (with an eighth opening this fall) that make up Kentucky’s legendary Bourbon Trail. Since I haven’t had the pleasure of drinking my way through the south just yet, I turned to Kristin Luna, a Nashville-based guidebook author/travel blogger extraordinaire who, like any good writer, knows her way around a glass of bourbon, to give us some insight on the best way to travel the trail.


“Bourbon Trail was one of those destinations that was difficult to research beforehand and only seemed to make a lot of sense after going there,” Luna says. She spent a whirlwind Memorial Day weekend last year touring the Bourbon Trail’s distilleries. Her trip didn’t go entirely as planned—read the full account on her blog Camels & Chocolate here—but her mistakes have become  your lessons in planning a successful (and boozy) sojourn:



Celebrations springing up in vineyards and tasting rooms

By Greg Thilmont May 7, 2013 10:46AM

For many vintage-loving travelers, the notion of visiting "wine country" is usually associated with late summer and early fall. Then, of course, is when grapes bulge on the vine and harvest kicks in. It's prime time for oenophiles.

But when spring starts to truly warm up, like it did this past weekend in the Woodinville micro-region just outside of Seattle, vino touristas like me head to tasting rooms. Some even bike around to take in the vernal beauty (and burn some calories).

This coming weekend brings a great occasion to take in more springtime amidst the vineyards – Wine Tourism Day 2013. Happening on Saturday, May 11, it's a celebration of voyaging for varietals from Syrah to Tempranillo.

Many wineries and other establishments across North America will be participating in the day.


Here’s just a partial glimpse of events:

Even better, you can pick up a fine bottle at one of Saturday’s events and raise a toast to your mom on Sunday, Mother’s Day.




Travel: 7 under-the-radar wine regions that deserve a toast

Travel: The 10 best celebrity-and-wine pairings

Bing: View photos of vineyards in North America


Photo courtesy of Greg Thilmont


Epic road tripping in Maui

By Julia Dimon May 6, 2013 11:18AM

It’s been called one of the world’s most scenic drives. The Hana Highway along Maui’s eastern coast is 52 miles of narrow roads that carve through lush rain forests along rocky coastlines. Stretching from Kahului to the sleepy coastal town of Hana, this curvaceous highway coils around the island, across hundreds of curves and one-lane bridges. A trip there reveals the rugged natural beauty of postcard perfect Hawaii, from sweeping ocean views, to tropical waterfalls and volcanic black sand beaches.


Eager to experience this adventure for myself, I flew to Maui, rented a compact car, cranked the radio to a jamming ukulele station and hit the road.


A San Francisco-based perfume maker tells us to avoid the tourist traps and bring local gifts

By Chelsea Lin May 3, 2013 9:32AM

In San Francisco, local Yosh Han has built an empire based on scent. Her business specializes in artisanal perfumes using top-quality ingredients from around the world, and you can find her products in high-end retailers like Barneys and Saks. But when she’s not in her home studio masterminding her distinct smells, Han is exploring the city and taking advantage of all the creative energy the Bay has to offer.


What makes you proud to be from your city?

San Francisco has a great artistic vibe and one that is based on communal support. There is a Wild West energy here, so the independent spirit reigns supreme—creative ingenuity is the gold standard in San Francisco. Artists, chefs, chocolatiers, writers, and designers cross-pollinate ideas regularly, and this breeds a wonderful culture of openness and support. I have been lucky to work with non-industry creatives who want to push the envelope in their respective fields, so I have been lucky to work on projects that are truly creative and not limited by traditional commerce.



Great Smoky Mountains National Park to hold synchronous firefly event

By Greg Thilmont Apr 30, 2013 10:45AM

Step aside, cicadas! You’re not the only amazing buggy critters to draw attention in the eastern half of the U.S. this year. In historic Elkmont, Tennessee – inside beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park – synchronous fireflies are set to sparkle in the trees during their annual mating extravaganza.

One of approximated 19 species of fireflies to inhabit the park, the glowingly named Photinus carolinus puts on some of the most remarkable examples of bioluminescence in the world.


A spring saunter through America’s Old World oasis

By CraiSBower Apr 30, 2013 8:41AM

It’s spring and there’s nowhere on earth I’d rather be than New York City’s Greenwich Village ‘round midnight. Wrapped in a West Village cherry blossom blizzard, I step into a midnight meal at Café Cluny, a favorite among this bevy of bistros, trattorie and cafés that embellish this neighborhood, the most emblematic “Old World” set of streets in America. 

Digestif digested, I walk a few minutes south simply to linger upon Commerce Street. Located just off Seventh Avenue, this tiny two-block passage contains the eponymous Commerce restaurant, the Cherry Lane Theatre, and Milk & Cookies Bakery.  My favorite street in the city, slipping onto Commerce somehow quells the clatter of the metropolis. The unnatural silence culls my voyeuristic temptation to peak through the iron gates into courtyards so perfectly situated that melancholic shroud also known as envy can swiftly smite an otherwise idyllic idyll. 



Which of these extreme outdoor sports would you be brave enough to try?

Which of these extreme outdoor sports would you be brave enough to try?

    47 %
    BASE jumping
    26,891 votes
    24 %
    Ice climbing
    13,453 votes
    29 %
    16,881 votes

Total Responses: 57,225
Not scientifically valid. Results are updated every minute.


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