Oktoberfest: A German Tradition Alive and Kicking in America
For many people (people interested in German culture and German food, beer drinkers, and people who just appreciate a good party), the end of September and beginning of October means Oktoberfest. This long-running festival, which was first held in 1810 in celebration of the wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, has continued to bring joy to Germans and non-Germans alike for over 200 years. Today, though the festival retains the German spelling of its name and it is still held in Theresienwiese—the meadow in Munich where it was first held—Oktoberfest is a worldwide celebration. It is no longer just the camaraderie of the German community of Munich that is celebrated, but it is also the camaraderie of the people of many cities, towns and villages, and of the global village generally.
Oktoberfest by the Bay
San Francisco’s Oktoberfest by the Bay (held Friday, 9/28 through Sunday, 9/30) is about as authentic as an American Oktoberfest gets. This is the real thing. You’ll see plenty of dirndls and Tyrolean hats spinning around on the dance floor to the beat of the best oom-pah music around. The oom-pah sounds are provided by the excellent Chico Bavarian Band. Since Chico, California, was the stopping place for many German immigrants in the 19th century, the roots of German culture are deep there.
The event is held in Pier 48, which is right on the San Francisco Bay and affords wonderful views of the water and of beautiful AT&T Park—home of the San Francisco Giants. It just so happens that back in 1810, Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese picked the ideal time of year to throw Oktoberfest in San Francisco. September marks the beginning of San Francisco’s warm season, when the fog lifts, and the days are warm and clear.
Oktoberfest Denver (held on two consecutive weekends—9/21-23 and 9/28-30) attracts 450,000 visitors. This is not an intimate festival, but it is a very festive festival. There are all sorts of things to see and do, even if you’re not there for the beer. However, if you are there for the beer, you’re in luck (more on that momentarily).
The Sea of Accordions is a perennial favorite. If you think a few accordions played together is captivating, try many, many, many accordions played together. The blend of sound that they get is truly heavenly. As you sway to their German sounds, you will find yourself asking whether the angels actually play accordions and not harps.
If you’re a fan of cute dogs and of races (and who’s not a fan of at least one of those things?), the long dog derby is for you. This race, which takes the festival home on Sunday, 9/30, is a celebration of wiener dogs. This very unique-looking dog, also known as the dachshund, is of German origin. Watching a dachshund race is kind of like watching Greyhound busses race Mac trucks (that is, if busses and trucks were super-cute). It’s not to be missed.
Also not to be missed is the German beer. Make sure to bring your own beer stein (so you don’t have to pay $20 for a stein at the festival) and enjoy all the reasonable (just $7) refills you need to make your Oktoberfest optimally festive.
The perfect thing after a long day of festivities is a long night of rest and relaxation. The perfect place for R and R is a hotel with those little touches that remind you of home—like a kitchen where you can make your own dinner and free in-room Wi-Fi. Oktoberfest during the daytime and family time at night: Now that’s a recipe for a perfect vacation!
Pro-Football Vacations for Pro Fans
While the fall signifies undesirable things for many people—like returning to school, cooling weather and the end of the season of locally-grown fresh vegetables—it also signifies the start of a season that some love way more than any of the four calendar seasons: the professional football season.
Just like many children mark off the days leading up to Christmas one by one, entirely focused on that one approaching point in time, many football fans wait for the first day of the season with the most heartfelt and concentrated yearning. Fantasy teams are readied, and up-to-date team clothing is acquired—both in anticipation of that all-important day in early September: the first day of the NFL season. For the ultimate NFL fan—the fan who feels the need to go to where the action is—there are a number of great pro football destinations to visit.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame
For pro football pilgrims, there’s one undeniable mecca: the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Hall of Fame building itself, which has been made more and more grand and spacious over the years as the sport it celebrates has grown in popularity and prestige, looks from the outside rather like a church crowned by a half-football rather than a cross. It is a very exciting time for this gridiron cathedral.
Opened in September of 1962 (four years before the NFL and AFL joined together to present the first Super Bowl), the Hall is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. Like a couple celebrating its golden anniversary who make sure they are in top form for the celebration, the Hall has pulled out all the good stuff in anticipation of the increase in visitors during its special year. There are many meticulously arranged exhibits, complete with multimedia tools, displaying football gear and memorabilia and telling the hallowed, dramatic story of American professional football.
Every football fan has his/her team. If you don’t have a favorite, then you’re just an interested observer, not a fan. The word “fan” is—we must remember—short for “fanatic.” Just as football is about striving for excellence on the part of the players, it is about loyalty on the part of the fans.
Despite who their favorite team is, though, all fans feel a deference and appreciation for the achievement of the reigning Super Bowl champions. Just like we, as loyal Americans, feel respect and admiration for the office of the president, regardless of whether we voted for the current holder of the position or not, the Super Bowl champions get a nod of respectful recognition from all fans—even those who are loyal to their most arch of rivals. A New England Patriots fan will grudgingly allow that the 2011 New York Giants proved in the end to be the better team.
There’s never been a better time to visit the home of the Giants. MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010, is one of the most modern-feeling (though not at the expense of the classic game), well-designed football stadiums in the country. The NFL expressed its approval of the stadium by announcing that it will be hosting Super Bowl XLVIII there in 2014. 2014’s Super Bowl will mark the first non-dome Super Bowl in a city that gets real winter weather.
A Super Hotel for a Super Fan
If you’re one of those football fans who never wants the action to stop, then you’ll probably want a hotel with a TV, a fully-equipped kitchen, and free in-room Wi-Fi so that you can watch highlights of your favorite team and enjoy a little tailgating food at the end of the day.
Modern Travel Devices for the Modern World
We live in a tech world. The future is now! All those science fiction movies our parents and grandparents watched were about our present. Leaving your house without your digital devices is pretty much unthinkable. You would certainly never dream of going travelling without your gadgets. You absolutely need them for work and fun in the modern world. But it really is quite a big hassle taking your home tech gear on the road with you. It can make you feel like a touring rock band or carnival, toting all that bulky gear. Unless you have roadies or carnies to carry your stuff for you, it’s a wise move to have separate home and travel tech gear—stable, workhorse gear for the home and sleek, portable gear for the road.
First off, you need a case to put your tablet computer and other small digital devices and power cords in when you’re on the road. You don’t want this stuff taking up space in your suitcases and getting lost in them. The Grid-It Wrap is the perfect solution. Its grid of elastic bands holds tightly onto all your small devices and power chords, and its neoprene pocket holds your tablet computer as snugly as a kangaroo holds its baby. Because the Grid-It Wrap is an open field of elastic bands layered over one another, you can arrange your devices however you like. There are no pre-determined slots here telling you how to organize your life. This Grid-It is 100% personalizeable. It’s 100% you. This sleek and efficient tool can be slipped into your laptop case when it is loaded up. Then all your tech gear is in the same place.
Does your laptop always run out of juice on long flights? Then you’re forced to watch VH1 Classic for two hours. Well... I guess that’s really not that bad. But if you’ve got work to do, it’s very frustrating not to be able to do it with all that free time on your hands. The solution to this problem is Apple’s MagSafe Airline Adapter. Apple’s air- travel adapter plugs into the power outlets that many airlines have on their seats. And since this is the MagSafe power adapter that many of us have come to know and love, you don’t have to worry about clumsy people knocking your computer to the floor on their way to the bathroom. The chord, with its magnetic tip, will release if tugged on hard enough. The Airline Adapter does not charge your laptop’s battery, but it will keep it running during your flight so you can work (or watch YouTube videos of kittens).
Have you ever found yourself sitting in a charming café on a beautiful day? It’s the perfect situation to get work done. Coffee and sunshine do magic for motivation. Then you discover, to your utter dismay, that the café has no Wi-Fi? The solution really is to carry your own WiFi hotspot with you. And why not look hot while you do it? How can you look hot and be a hotspot at once? With Brookstone’s WiFi/2GB USB Cufflinks. The sort of thing that Q would give to James Bond, these silver cufflinks contain 2GB Flash drives (for your espionage, of course) and come with software that will enable your computer to connect to its very own hotspot when one of the cufflinks is plugged into a USB port.
After a day of travelling around in the modern world, you’re probably just going to want some good old-fashioned relaxation. Extended Stay Hotels offers you just that, without sacrificing modern technological conveniences—like free Wi-Fi.
Canada: The Perfect Blend of America and Europe
There’s no better time to travel to Canada than the summertime. It’s a bit cooler up there, and the days are a bit longer. Also, it strikes the perfect balance between the United States and Europe. It’s exotic, but it is not at all disorienting—as some foreign countries can be. You can reach Canada by car if you choose to—just like driving to any of the lower forty-eight. The highways are a bit narrower, the gas is a bit pricier and the speed limits are in the metric system (which is all easy to get used to); but other than that, once you get across the border, driving to your Canadian destination is much like driving to any town or city in the US.
The following are a few of the most interesting destinations Canada has to offer.
Toronto is just as massive and cosmopolitan as New York City or Chicago. It is also comparable to New York in that it is Canada’s theatre capital. What makes it more attractive than New York City or Chicago, is that things (including the theatre) are less expensive in Toronto.
Soulpepper is a repertory company founded by theater artists. It is presenting a trio of American modern-classic plays during August and September: David Mamet’s Speed the Plow, Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
Toronto is also a leading city for film. The Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place this year between September 6th and16th, serves as the world-premier for many artistically great and popular movies. The much-awaited documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp will premier at this year’s festival. Iceberg Slim’s story is one of literary redemption. He went from being an exploitative pimp to being a prolific, much-appreciated author. Also showing at this year’s festival is Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder in 3D. It is a little-known fact that Hitch actually shot this masterpiece in 3D. Come to a masterpiece of a city, Toronto, and see a masterpiece of a film restored to its original, very contemporary-feeling brilliance.
Canada’s capital, Ottawa, is a charming, culturally-rich city situated on the Ottawa River. The Rideau Canal, a World Heritage Site, is like a Venetian canal in the summer and like the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink in the winter (both ideal sites for romance). Additionally, there are biking and walking paths alongside the canal. You can enjoy the canal’s beauty, looking down at the picturesque boats puttering along, while getting some exercise.
If you are an architecture buff and/or a political buff, Parliament Hill is not to be missed. The buildings are done in the very-exciting style of the Gothic-Revival. The Canadian government offers free tours that give one the run down on their version of democracy and of history. Make sure to ask them about the War of 1812. Their take on it is far different than that offered in American high-school history textbooks.
After touring Canada for the day, you’ll likely want a taste of home. If you do, then you’ll want a hotel where you can make food the way you want it in your own kitchen and enjoy the free in-room Wi-Fi.
Discover California on the Pacific Coast Highway
National Geographic named a trip down California’s Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, one of its 500 most impressive trips in the world. True to its name, this pleasantly careening road is at land’s end for much of the trip. This drive will afford you the best views of the Pacific Ocean and its rocky coastline—all possible from a car. Additionally, there is ample opportunity to park and gawk. The Pacific Coast Highway has the honor of being known as an All-American Road. It is very much that—both because of its intense beauty and its cultural significance.
Big Sur is a big deal for writers and artists. Jack Kerouac named a novel Big Sur; Richard Brautigan named one A Confederate General from Big Sur; and Henry Miller, whose memorial library is located there, has a book called Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch—about the time he spent in the town.
Big Sur is beautiful in the day and in the night. The ocean vistas are unparalleled—a fact verified by the copious tourists parked and looking out at the seemingly endless Pacific. At night, the sky lights up with what appears to be the entirety of the universe. We may not know if there’s life in space yet, but we can say for sure that space sure looks alive when you’re looking into it at night in Big Sur.
The Henry Miller Memorial Library is a must-see stop in Big Sur. The library, a grudging memorial to a man who disapproved of memorials, hosts many culturally-important events. Since it’s not just a memorial but a living-arts and performance center, Miller may (or may not) approve. Upcoming events include a screening of the celebrated film Koyaanisqatsi, featuring a Q&A session with the filmmaker and the composer of the film’s score, and a performance by Rufus Wainwright.
Hearst Castle (sixty-five miles south of Big Sur), which was depicted fictionally in the film Citizen Kane, was the beyond-sprawling estate of the late newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The mansion has 115 rooms, and there are even guest houses! As a mélange of Mediterranean Revival and classical architectural styles, the manse was a monument Hearst had built to himself.
I highly recommend the evening tour of Hearst Castle—offered in the spring and autumn. The idea of this tour is to make you feel like a guest at the estate would have felt during the 1930s—the period when Hearst was at the apex of his life as host to the world’s most famous and important people. On this tour, you will get to see many of the main house’s (that is Casa Grande’s) key rooms—such as Hearst’s own suite and his library. Additionally, during this tour, the staff is dressed in period costume—blending in perfectly with the look of the house to make the visitor truly feel that he has, much like Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, travelled effortlessly and pleasurably back in time in order to enjoy the company of a sparkling set of people and a sparkling setting.
After doing a day of the best California cruising out there, you’ll likely be looking to cruise into a charming and comfortable hotel. At Extended Stay Hotels, you get the simple charm of an extremely comfortable room—complete with a kitchen and free in-room Wi-Fi. It’s the perfect compliment to a perfect day!
Extreme Thrill-Seeker Vacations
Are you someone who’s always down for new extreme adventures—someone with an extra-long list of been-there-done-thats? There are a number of adrenalin-fix vacations designed for you. There are plenty of crazy things to do beyond the standard stuff. If white water rafting and bungee jumping seem old to you, it’s time you upped the ante. It’s time you doubled down with some adventures that are as intense and unique as you are.
Most people’s Las Vegas trips are memorable because they won some money, lost some money or saw Elton John. You can make yours memorable for a far less ordinary reason—a reason that will make far better stories than winning $100 and singing along to “Candle in the Wind.”
Take a trip guided by a professional stunt man who has done a lot of Hollywood film work—a stunt man who has the distinction of being the first person to bungee jump while aflame. You will be in the very able hands of Rich Hopkins and his company Thrillseekers Unlimited. This guy is an expert in just about everything extreme: blowing stuff up, getting hit by bullets, driving race cars, parachuting—the list goes on and on. You and a group of friends, family or coworkers—he takes groups of up to ten people—can have one of the most character-and-team-building experiences out there in one of the most fun cities in the United States. Viva Las Vegas!
When you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic, do you ever say to yourself, “I wish I had a tank about now”? If you do, then I’m about to make your dream come true. Drive a Tank, located in Kasota, Minnesota, is in the business of letting thrill seekers drive around in real British tanks, and you do it in style.
In battle, tank drivers have to be all scrunched up in little driving compartments. At Drive a Tank, you get to open up the vehicle’s lid and stick your head out while you drive—like tank drivers do when they are rolling through the streets in a parade. And get this: They’ve got something called the “crush package.” This means that you reduce cars to scrap metal with your hulking, powerful tank. It’ll be like the best rush hour drive ever.
Drag racing cars are pure muscle and speed. They literally smoke their competition; the wheels on these things get so hot. If you crave speed, if you love it when the landscape outside the car window is reduced to an abstract blur, then a drag-race getaway is just what the doctor ordered.
Through Doug Foley’s Drag Racing School, you can get in the literal hot seat and make yourself a blur running down the track. Foley’s Drag Racing tours around the country, so you can hook up with your drag racing experience in a number of locations. So you really don’t have any excuse not to have one of the wildest, most memorable experiences of your life.
After having crazy adventures, the most appealing thing to do is just kick back like you do at home. The perfect place to do that is at an Extended Stay Hotel—the thrill seeker’s home away from home.
A Leaf-Peeping Road Trip in New England
It’s almost leaf-peeping time, folks! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then let me tell you about one of the most beautiful, colorful traditions our country has to offer. In the fall, at harvest time, in many parts of the US, the leaves turn many colors as they reach the end of their lives. They do not, to quote the Dylan Thomas poem, “go gentle into that good night,” but rather, they “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” And in so doing, they create many bright colors—festive-seeming tones ranging from yellow to red to purple. Different parts of the country have different leaf-peeping seasons. The New England season begins at the end of September.
Vermont, well-known for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and the jam band Phish, is a prime leaf-peeping destination. And the prime leaf-peeping road in the state is Route 100. This blue highway will take you through many bucolic towns with classic white-steepled New England churches, covered bridges and sugar houses selling world-famous Vermont maple syrup. I recommend stopping at the Green Mountain Sugar House, located just a few miles north of the town of Ludlow. As well as syrup, they sell Vermont’s other culinary specialty: cheddar cheese. Vermont in the fall is truly a feast for the eyes and for the belly.
Rhode Island might be the smallest state in the Union, but its leaf-peeping reputation is anything but small. If you want first-hand proof, drive the Glocester Loop, which runs through the state’s Blackstone River Valley. This road is loaded with Rhode Island’s fall fruit-and-vegetable bounty. There are a number of stands selling apples, pumpkins (both of which you can pick yourself at many at many of the farm stands) and squash. These quaint roadside attractions are the perfect places to load up on bobbing apples and carving pumpkins for Halloween.
Connecticut is an extremely beautiful state—for which it does not get its due credit. When people thing of Connecticut, they think of upscale suburbs, UConn basketball or Yale, but the state has so much more going for it. Route 169 is Connecticut’s mainline for striking leaf peeping, and this road is just loaded with history.
The Prudence Crandall Museum, located in the building that was Crandall’s school for girls in the early 19th century, is dedicated to the life and mission of Connecticut’s official state heroine. Crandall admitted African Americans to her school at a time when racism was quite widespread and virulent, even in the North.
If you are interested in architecture, the Roseland Cottage, a striking pink gothic-revival house, is not to be missed. Located on Route 169 in the town of Woodstock, Roseland Cottage was the summer mansion of Lucy and Henry Bowen. (It’s quite a bit bigger than your average cottage; last time I checked, cottages don’t require multiple chimneys.) Henry, a native of Woodstock, had the large house built after he made his fortune in New York City. The bright pink “cottage” perfectly compliments the bright leaves surrounding it in the autumn. Leaf-peeping season is without a doubt the time to visit.
After taking in the colorful bounty of Mother Nature’s palette, you’ll want a hotel where you can lay back and soak it all in—a hotel that is comfortable and doesn’t overwhelm you with pretention—a place where you feel comfortable kicking back like you do at home.