Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Airports as City Travel Guides



It has occurred to me over my increasing number of travels that time in an airport actually constitutes a large portion of a person’s travel. This is particularly evident to me today as I am in Detroit for seven hours awaiting my next flight.

As is often the case, I don't have quite the amount of time to go out of the airport and into the city. Yet, I have realized that airports can be seen as a cities condensed, packaged and presented in the form of a gift shop.  Granted, the result can be trite, stereotypical, moneymaking reproductions and not real culture. BUT, it is actually fun to scope out nuggets of culture and city pride that is buried under and amid the masses of capitalism-inspired crap. So it is almost a missed opportunity not to “visit” Detroit through its airport.

Standard city t-shirt... not too revealing
of any one particular city.
If you look beyond the ridiculous price tags, the concept behind most of these gifts do point to something authentic for which the city is either proud or known or both. For instance, sports teams. You can always tell how big a particular sport is in a city by the number of stores and paraphernalia dedicated to that one sport. Some cities are “baseball” cities, some are “american football” cities or others, hockey cities. Internationally, you see this on a smaller scale but you can still tell which sport cities follow and whether or not their football (soccer) team is 1) a winning team (jerseys of recent world cup wins), 2) a popular team (absence of any home team jerseys at all).

An airport also allows you to see what products are made locally. In grocery stores or throughout the city, it might be hard to decipher what is locally made. Marketing in an airport helps you know which chocolate is actually produced in say, Pennsylvania, rather than Switzerland.

I like the idea of viewing the airport as a type of travel guide: what places to visit are often photographs on the walls or exhibits borrowed from a great local museum. What meals to eat are either packaged as souvenirs in the travel marts or sometimes show up on the menus of airport restaurants (e.g. “Michigan’s own…”). What to do can be answered by the souvenirs for sports teams, popular museums, local TV stations to visit etc. Atlanta’s airport for example has corresponding shops that can point you to a visit in Coke World or the CNN building.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor
Company, was a Michigan native.
By those accounts, Detroit seems to be equally proud of the red wings (hockey), tigers (baseball) and lions (football). The Henry Ford store exhibits Detroit's reputation and history as the center of America's automobile industry.  Other stores display motown paraphernalia, pointing you to Detroit's tradition of soul music and the popular Motown Museum. And there are locally grown products from state farms, everything from jam preserves to chocolate, reminding you that agriculture (especially apples) is an important part of Michigan's economy.

It might not be an authentic visit, but I do feel like I know Detroit a little better and should I find myself here again, I would have a better idea how to visit this city.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Shag in South Carolina

This week I write from Charleston, South Carolina.This is perhaps my fifth visit to Charleston, a number which will surely increase in the future as my parents have chosen this southern city as their future retirement spot.

Spanish Moss: a sign of the South
The southern United States has a very distinct feel. Yet, despite all the items that could easily remind you of this particular southern state, pecans, palmetto trees, Spanish moss, light houses, beaches etc., South Carolina always reminds me of one thing: Shag. Not the British meaning of the word, but the America-in-the-1960's meaning: a beach dance mildly related to swing. And more than the dance, South Carolina reminds me of "Shag" the movie.

Set in the '60s but filmed in the '80s it was one of those innocent, girl-flicks about a mild form of rebellion. Like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" or the classic, "Dirty Dancing," "Shag" is about four girls tricking their parents into allowing them to go for an educational weekend to historical Fort Sumter when in fact they go to Myrtle Beach, to... oh-cover-your-ears... meet boys!

Sullivan Island beach perfect for 90+ degree weather

While I knew that my particular trip to South Carolina was never going to follow in the foot steps of the "Shag" girls, I couldn't help wishing I would see a shag competition, just as a nod to a movie with which I was mildly obsessed in my adolescence.  No, decidedly a four day trip with my parents would not be about rebellion; the trip would more aptly follow Luanne's famous line from the movie, (cue southern drawl): "Now we can have a good time, but we cannot be wild."

Wild it was not, but sun, beach time and restaurant outings weren't too shabby for a vacation. As for shagging (reminder: G-rated blog), that would be for a different trip. 


Poe's Tavern- Sullivan's Island
No alligators in this particular marsh,
but you always need to be on the look-out

A bare palm tree

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Capitals Game

I was a dork in high school. I know this. And even if I didn't, I could have looked up my character description in an urban dictionary and have seen my high school-self reflected in the terms dork, nerd or even geek. Straight As, shy, bookworm, with uncontrollable hair that was only worsened by Debbie Gibson and the sense of style through the 80s and 90s. This was me for an embarrassing amount of years.

This past car trip up to Canada, I got a glimpse of where some of my nerdiness came from. My parents, sister and I fell back into "family trip mode," a phenomenon unknown for many years now. Yet, we quickly reverted back to our old time-passing car games. Not "punch buggy" or "I spy," but "Name the 50 U.S. States" (a memory game that is a lot harder than even American history buffs might realize) and "Name the State Capitals" (a game that American history buffs would be good at, but that we "regular" folk are not). 

Many state capitals are obscure, town-like spots that sometimes have no other claim to fame than its status as the capital of something: Frankfort, Kentucky; Dover, Delaware; Lansing, Michigan. Even states like New York and Pennsylvania can throw you for a loop (Albany and Harrisburg respectively).

So on that topic, the other day I went to Maryland's lesser-known city and state capital, Annapolis: a charming and lazy little town on the Chesapeake Bay in a colonial style that reminds you that Maryland was of the original tranche of states, one of the original 13 colonies. 


Annapolis is adorable with its red brick establishments, seafood restaurants and two streets of shops. Of course, those familiar with U.S. Naval Academy know Annapolis for this reason. And it is not hard to spot navy men in their ironed whites walking the streets of the city, usually improving the view. I did not follow my instinct to photograph this particular sight, but I did photograph some of Annapolis' other ones.   


Seafood Restaurants and Bars

Part of the harbor

An interesting looking man that I assume leads tours?
Or one that just likes colonial hats.

Annapolis as a Mural
Though there doesn't appear to be a clear rationale or common approach for how capitals were chosen, land donations or proximity to populated areas seem to be two reasonable answers given. Regardless, I think the tourism industry should be grateful. It draws people (more or less successfully) out of the bigger cities to some of the other charming and/or more characteristic ones. I'll admit though that in my numerous trips to Florida, Orlando and Disney World have always trumped Tallahassee.

And for those of you who are now curious, here is a resource to practice memorizing the U.S. state capitals.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Snapshots of a short trip: Montréal

Talking about cities that I often circle back to, let's talk about Montreal. As the vast majority of my family lives in this city, I find myself touring Montreal once or twice a year. Of its two vastly different personalities, winter and summer, the latter is definitely more welcoming... at least to a winter-wimp like me.

I adore Montreal in the summer when every restaurant and every festival, and therefore, every one, it seems, is out on the streets, perhaps secretly admitting to the world that they too have put on a brave face for nine months, but in truth, they also hate the winter.

Les Quebecois really know how to celebrate a season. Carpe aestatem: Seize the summer for you know it is fleeting. I would venture that this is Montreal's summer mantra.

While I put together my traditional list of things to experience for this city, let me at least share some snapshots:

Caffe Latte at a cafe-terrasse

Saint Joseph's Oratory erected by Montreal's own Saint,
most commonly known as Frère André

A left-over from Montreal's street festivals. The summer is filled with them!


Enjoying a micro-brew at 3 Brasseurs (translated to 3 Brewers)
at the Rue Saint Denis location

Self-explanatory... except for the pigs

Poutine: a Montreal tradition. French fries topped
with gravy and cheese curds. Padding for the cold winters?

Champ-de-Mars Metro Station

Sushi a volonté! All you can eat sushi place,
one of the vast number of ethnic restaurants on Saint Denis.

Depanneur: literally translated "one who bails out,"
i.e. a convenient store. A great word best left untranslated!


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