Aug 142013

My next book: Frommer's London 2014

My next book: Frommer’s London 2014

I have turned in the last chapter of Frommer’s EasyGuide to London 2014, the first guidebook to be edited and published by Arthur Frommer since the 1970s. He created the brand in 1957, and he asked me to be the first author of a flagship book when he retook publication. Of course I said yes.

Reinventing a guidebook under the supervision of the man who defines them has had me thinking about what makes a worthy one. I found myself dipping into the archive to look at what Arthur himself did in the 1950s.

Here’s a nugget from the very first guide he wrote, 1955′s The G.I.’s Guide to Travelling in Europe:

“In most of your encounters with British food, you’ll feel that you’re shoveling hay into your mouth.”

Times have changed and that is no longer an appraisal I can agree with, but I instantly loved his pointedness in telling it like it was. One might call it refreshing honesty. But in the framework of writing a guide, it’s what I call telling people what they really want to know.

When he reported from Berlin’s Revi telephone bar, he essentially told male readers if they stood a chance of getting laid: Continue reading »

Jun 152013

Spotted in London at Foyles (which is moving into a newly constructed building next door in early 2014): Penguin UK’s brilliant and audacious reissue of Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ It’s designed in the classic orange and white bands as mid-century Penguin paperbacks were, but it’s embossed and redacted.

No American publisher would have the courage to let a book’s theme drive the design so confidently that the title of the product would be obscured.


May 062013

20120717-220452.jpgI just got this excellent message on my Facebook page.

It seems the mystery of “Who’s leaving smiley faces beside celebrity graves” has been solved, and the answer is rather beautiful in its guilelessness:

Hi Jason. — It’s been brought to my attention that you have been curious to who has been leaving the rock smileys on the celebrity graves… That would be me!
I also leave them on other graves that catch my attention, next to street art, and anything else that catches my attention in the Los Angeles Area. — Also as the commenter on your blog mentioned, Pittsburgh. I just came back from visiting there where I spent a lot of time visiting their cemeteries and leaving my rock smileys.
If you go to my Facebook page, you will see several albums of pictures of where I have left them.
It all started with my friend Tamra finding a little rock with a face on it, and how it made her smile. Then a few of us thought we’d leave some rock smileys around for others to find, sort of like a pay it forward type of thing. — And well, I’ve gone a little crazy with it.
And I am totally flattered that you made a blog entry about my rock smileys… :)
—Lisa Albanese

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Apr 302013

Fort Worth’s namesake is a traffic island. Rude!

I stopped at a New York City monument for lunch. Although thousands of people visit it every day, it was never a popular attraction. Near the northwest corner of Madison Square Park, in an concrete traffic triangle bordered by Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 25th Street, a squat obelisk is encircled by an iron fence.

It was built in 1857 as the central feature of one of the city’s most important intersections. Today, everyone who rides the N train slides right under it. Every tourist who photographs the Flatiron Building would be staring at it if only they’d turn around. Around back is a hatch.

Inside, General William Jenkins Worth’s corpse rests quietly in the middle of one of the busiest traffic interchanges in Manhattan.

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Apr 202013

New York Travel FestivalI spoke today about how to avoid travel scams at the New York Travel Festival. If you missed my talk, Spike the Baby (And Other Rules for Dodging Travel Scams), you missed a lot of detail about various scams both tried-and-true and newfangled.

One element of my talk was a brief list of resources for finding out the latest scams and knowing how to ward them off. Here are some key links for doing your own country-by-country research before you set off on your own.

Recent travelers keep warnings current on the many excellent travel sharing boards such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and BootsnAll (although beware that some people think that voluntarily overpaying for an inferior product qualifies as a “scam” — it doesn’t), here are a few additional links that you should keep in your  bookmarks. Be warned that the State Department’s Travel Safe mobile phone app is not updated with the speed of international events, so it’s best if you avoid using that and stick to the Web-based warnings pages, which are updated more attentively.

Because the U.S. State Department doesn’t have the good sense to create easy-to-use URLs for its most important travel update pages, I have taken the liberty of creating shortlinks that you actually stand a chance of remembering at the moment you need them most.

My NY Travel Fest talk was about avoiding scams while you’re on the road. I gave a separate talk, with its own list of prescriptions (click here for that), at the recent New York Times Travel Show, and it covered ways to protect yourself when you’re still at home, booking travel.

As I said during my talk today, if you should fall prey to a scam, don’t beat yourself up. Stuff happens, and there are professionals who devote every one of their dastardly brain cells to devising new methods of outwitting you. The happy fact is that major scams are fairly rare. Don’t be afraid.

Apr 162013

From my travel photo files: The 443-foot-tall London Eye is erected in the fall of 1999. It was assembled flat, lying on barges in the Thames, and had to be slowly winched into a vertical position, 2 degrees an hour, while London stood by and wondered what millennial folly this would turn out to be.

It turned out to be a landmark for our age. It has been called the Millennium Wheel, the British Airways London Eye, the Merlin Entertainments London Eye, and the plain old London Eye. Today, it is known as the EDF Energy London Eye.

The London Eye is hoisted into place, fall 1999.

The London Eye begins life as a sort of wink, fall 1999.

Apr 032013
Me with Mark Burnett

Me with Mark Burnett

It has been a while since I wrote about Shark Tank here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t often still get questions about the show.

The most common one? It’s whether I can connect people to Mark Burnett. (If you think I can, perhaps you aren’t ready for the intellectual rigors of pitching the Sharks. Here’s the general application link.)

But there are other things you didn’t know that I could tell you.


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Mar 312013

I get a lot of press kits on USB drives. A decade ago, when they replaced paper kits (thank goodness), they were uninspired and utilitarian, and they often stored as little as 256 MB of information, so they didn’t hold much interest even in re-use. Now, even a standard stick drive can contain 2 to 4 GB and they compete to be memorable. Even though they publicize American attractions, nearly all of them are still made in China.

I saved a few of my favorites.

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Who knows — maybe I’ll add more cool designs as I run across them.

Mar 292013

DanRatherandMeI forgot to post this when it was called to my attention last month. Waywire, the news startup backed in part by Cory Booker, has engaged Dan Rather as one of its faces, and in this video segment, Dan Rather calls me one of the “Top Anchors” of the Web.

I come right after Matthew Keys, the Reuters social media editor who was subsequently indicted with aiding hackers. (Can’t say Dan isn’t still ahead of the big stories!)

But it’s what Dan Rather said about me that had me sideshifting from amused to bewildered. I think I confused the fella.

He seems really bewildered by my twitter bio. I mean, it’s an honor just to be noticed, but anytime someone feels obligated to say the phrase “all due respect,” you know they probably don’t have much.

For the record, pop historian is an established term these days. Both the esteemed Simon Schama and Stephen Ambrose have worn the mantle. And I proudly do, too. It allows me to keep talking about the past without having to publish research papers that put people to sleep.

Like I said. It’s an honor to be noticed.

Mar 252013

What’s the deal with these bird’s-eye photos of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida? They appear on Google Maps when you zoom in and click “Satellite.” They seem fabricated. Why?

1. Parades don’t do that.


Check out the configuration of the parade. Normally, the enter the Hub from the bridge at 10 o’clock, travel clockwise, and exit at 6 o’clock. Here, the floats go round and round the entire Hub as if it’s a carousel. In real life, floats pack together, with lots of dancers between them, and with no large gaps. But look:

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