second thoughts

pony and trap

The first sight we see upon docking at Aegina is a line-up of pony and traps waiting to tramp tourists around the main town. Uh oh. Perhaps the proximity of the island to Athens makes it more of a tourist hub than originally anticipated. (Even though by all outward appearances there seems to be at most five identifiable tourists wandering the esplanade, and the klatsch of carriage drivers are too busy smoking and talking to pay us any heed.) We opt for ice cream – pistachio, natch – and a pause to look at our options.

pistachio ice cream

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no such thing as bad publicity

Los Pollos Hermanos

File under sad, but true: a fast-food burrito chain where a fictional drug trafficker runs his organization has become one of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s more improbable tourist attractions. As “Breaking Bad” finishes filming its final season in the city, the popular show has brought about a major boost to the local economy – yet it’s also creating a dilemma for tourism officials having to consider the ultimate cost of exploiting their city’s ties to a show that centers around drug trafficking, addiction and violence. (The show follows the fictional character of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth lord.) While other popular television shows such as “Sex and the City” and “Seinfeld” have spawned a veritable cottage industry of location-based tours, “Breaking Bad” has provoked a pattern of drug-themed products springing up around town. The Candy Lady store recently capitalized on the show’s popularity by selling blue “Breaking Bad” meth treats – sugar rock candy that looks like the meth sold on the show. And the Great Face & Body shop developed a new line of blue bath salts called Bathing Bad. (For the record they are not the street drug known as bath salts.) Meanwhile, Masks y Mas Mexican folk art store near the University of New Mexico sells papier-mache statues of La Santa Muerte — Mexico’s Death Saint who counts drug traffickers among her devotees. (During the chilling opening of the show’s third season, a pair of cartel assassins is shown crawling to the saint’s shrine in Mexico to request some divine help.) Tourists are also flocking to sites that before the show were unknown and unimportant: the suburban home of White, played by Bryan Cranston; a car wash that’s a front for a money-laundering operation on the series; a rundown motel used frequently for filming; and the real-life burrito joint, Los Pollos Hermanos, which is a fast food chicken restaurant on the show. “It’s raised the visibility of the city,” said Tania Armenta, a vice president for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, which created a website of the show’s most popular places around town to help tourists navigate. But whether it’s a perception tourists might come to equate with, say Ciudad Juarez, remains to be seen. Until then there’s apparently no such thing as bad publicity.

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kaffeeklatsch

vienna coffeehouse conversations

Visitors to the Austrian capital now have an opportunity to get to know the Viennese from a totally different angle. Informal Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations bring together locals and tourists for an evening meal and coffee accompanied by stimulating conversation in that quintessentially Viennese environment: the coffeehouse.  (Organizers were inspired by Viennese coffeehouse culture, which was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets in 2011.) A special “question menu” inspires the newly acquainted companions to talk about travel, friendship, and family as they enjoy a three-course dinner together in one of a pair of Vienna’s most popular coffeehouses, the Adolph Loos-designed Café Museum and Café Am Heumarkt, a bohemian relic from another era. Conversation-based meals have become a quirky trend in travel, having popped up at street festivals and art galleries from London to Singapore in recent years and even finding their way into the world economic forum in Davos. Think of it as a blind date with guaranteed benefits – or at least a great cup of coffee.

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patong beach

patong

Patong Beach is the main tourist resort in Phuket, just south of where I am staying at Paresa. It’s the center of cheap shopping on the island and probably more famous for its nightlife than the mile-long crescent beach that stretches the length of town. (Think Cancun by way of Southeast Asia.) The shape of the bay being a natural funnel, Patong was also one of the worst affected areas of Phuket when the Boxing Day tsunami struck in 2004. The giant wave caused a great deal of destruction to the waterfront and immediately inland. But you wouldn’t know that today: the town is built-up and teeming with European tourists – plus enough Russians to call for street signs posted near the six-deep beach to be written in Cyrillic. Thanks but no thanks, Patong Beach; I’m not spending my last day in Thailand struggling to discover your dubiously hidden charms. I’m tuk-tukking it back to my villa.

patong beach

tsunami warning

patong beach gals

crowded with russians

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monkey see, monkey do

macaque monkeys

Exiting the south gate of Angkor Thom I came upon a posse of macaques along the side of the road. Obviously they’ve become habituated to humans by the steady stream of tourists: no sooner did I express an interest in them did they express an even greater interest in me – or, more specifically, my iPhone 5.

one inquisitive macaque

make that a very inquisitive macaque

no, you cannot have my iphone5

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a panoramic hangover

Not having seen either of the rowdy Hangover movies I had no idea that The Dome at lebua is considered a place of pilgrimage in certain circles – I’d just gone for dinner and the promise of one of the best views in Bangkok. Located on the 63rd floor of The Dome, Sirocco is one of the world’s highest al fresco restaurants and indeed, the panoramic view over the city’s middling skyline is as good as it gets. If you can the handle crowds and the relentless flash of camera-toting tourists the adjoining multi-hued Skybar - cantilevered out over the building - is something to see, even if only for the Bangkok bravado of the bartenders.

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