The Educated Traveler
Special Interest Travel Notes
Though I wouldnt recommend the pace, I recently visited three islands in five days. My journey took me first to Iceland,
then on a day trip to Greenland, and onward to Northern Ireland. I found all three destinations loaded with spectacular scenery and charming people . . .
and definitely worth a longer stay. Ill be heading back to Iceland soon, so Ill wait to tell you about its many attractions. In the meantime:
Greenland for A Day
Was I mad to consider taking a day trip to Greenland, a mere 4-hour stay on Kulusuk Island bracketed by 2-hour flights from Reykjavik,
Iceland? I wouldnt lose any time (Greenland time is two hours earlier than Iceland time) but reckoned on having to settle for a day-trippers mecca
of souvenir shops and kitschy native presentations.
Was I ever wrong! It turns out that one flight per day from Iceland (only in summer season) brings about 35 people to Kulusuk. Landing
on a gravel airstrip, youre greeted by a one-of-a-kind airport sign stating that the only people allowed on the airfield with guns are hunters.
After a hike from the airfield over rough terrain, past an inlet where we spotted numerous dead seals (its the islanders
natural refrigerator we were told), we reached the 350-person settlement of Cape Dan. Yes, there are some souvenirs for sale, but we also got to taste whale
meat (its like chewing gum). After a very short Inuit dance exhibition, we climbed into small motorboats and local fishermen steered us out to the icebergs
floating in the bay.
The return flight to Reykjavik began with an extremely low fly-over of a glacier, a chance to see how the fissures in the ice widen
and deepen the closer the frozen mass gets to the ocean. My trip was pricey (approximately $375 for the day) and worth every penny. Contact: Guðmundur
Jónasson Travel, Borgartún 34, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland; 011-354-511-1515, fax 011-354-511-1511;www.gjtravel.is.
Northern Ireland Walks
I traveled to Croatia just a year after major hostilities had ended and found it to be one of the most peaceful places Id ever
visited. I felt the same way about Northern Ireland. Green, lush, and tranquil, the countryside boasts scenic drives, evocative views of ruined castles along
the coastline, and the Giants Causeway, one of the U.K.s two World Heritage Sites (the other is Stonehenge). With only an afternoon to visit the
rugged northern coast, imagine my delight to have the National Trust guide for the Giants Causeway, Dave Southall, walk with me down the sloping road
to this geological wonder.
I learned from him about the various strata of lava on the coast and both the geological explanation (caused by volcanic eruptions)
and mythical explanation (built by giant Finn McCooll) for 40,000 hexagonal stone columns that stretch from the coast out into the sea.
Daves card says Walker and Partner, Dal Riada Ventures. Though we had time for a glass of whiskey from Bushmills,
there wasnt enough time for Dave to introduce me to all the walks about Ireland, both north and south, that hes come to love. Contact: Dal Riada
Ventures, 68 Station Rd., Portstewart, Northern Ireland BT55 7HQ; Tel./fax 011-44-28-70-832832.
Paris In Winter
Like many parts of the world, Paris is overrun by tourists most times of the year. Given the choice, I will always sacrifice weather
in exchange for having a place more to myself. Airlines and tour operators cooperate by giving their greatest discounts for winter travel. Between November
and March, Continental Airlines will fly you New York to Paris for just $469 . . . and throw in five nights in a hotel and five breakfasts with the price!
My two favorite museums, Musée dOrsay and the Rodin Museum, are nicely heated, and I can always fortify myself for a walk
through the chilly city with a stop on the street corner for roasted chestnuts or, my favorite, a warm noisette (hazelnut) crêpe. Contact: France Vacations,
More Italian Walks
In the spring I took my mother on her very first trip to Italy. It had to be special, and the walks we took made it so. On a rain-soaked
April morning in Venice, Samantha Durrell got us away from the tourist-clogged Piazza San Marco and enabled us to shop for cool Italian ready-to-wear (for
my teenage daughters), sample stuffed olives (on my mothers must-eat list), and visit Samanthas local butcher, who still keeps a memorial photo
of her late pooch hanging above the meat counter.
Samantha came to Venice, fell in love with the city, and never left. Hers is not an art and architecture tour but a walking excursion
aimed at looking inside life in Venice. In about four hours, Samantha became on old friend, taking us to the apartment she is renovating and regaling
us with stories. Along the back canals where Venetians live and work, we stopped at a local shop that makes dainty miniatures to check on an order of bridal
favors Samantha had placed for an American couple. (Her other sideline is arranging weddings for American couples who want to marry in this incomparably romantic
We quickly turned our backs on the plastic gondolas and fake Venetian masks and embraced a Venice Id never known. It was easy
to see why Samantha fell in love. Contact Samantha through Venice Travel Advisory Service, 22 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10023; Tel./fax 212-873-1964.
Day Trips in Bilbao
Everyone has been raving about Frank Gehrys design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The building singlehandedly succeeded
in turning this formerly grubby industrial port into one of the most sought-after destinations on the continent. So in demand has Bilbao become that Archetours
has made something of a specialty out of it. The 5-year-old company has traditionally offered 7- to 10-day tours. But if you want to go just to Bilbaoor
to add a stopover to another tripArchetours can set up a private half-day or full-day guided tour of the museum and the town which takes advantage of
the many contacts Archetours owner, Gail Cornell, has developed over her 20 visits to the area. Contact: Archetours, Inc.
Its not often that I find someone offering tours of Transylvania, the region in the Carpathian Mountains of todays Romania
that is mostly known as Draculas home. Joyce Corbett offers two tours to the area each fall in conjunction with the Ethnic Textile Council of San Diego.
The trips feature active craftspeople working in the traditional style. Bed and breakfast accommodations are in private homes. Her May 2001 trip will focus
on carpet collections in Transylvania. Contact: Joyce Corbett, Ethnic Textile Council of San Diego, P.O. Box 34052, San Diego, CA 92103.