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Check In: A Boutique Retreat in Beijing’s 798 Art District

Written By wartini cantika on Kamis, 31 Januari 2013 | 17.35

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

A Superior Room with photos of Chinese opera above the bed.

Rooms start at 850 renminbi (about $140, at 6 renminbi to the dollar), plus service charge.

Basics

This 30-room boutique hotel, which was the Yi House Hotel until the Grace Hotels Group bought it and reopened it in late 2011, embodies both eccentric and luxe well. Colorful abstract paintings and embroidered carpets fill the walls of its otherwise minimalist lobby alongside a bright green sofa and gray crushed-velvet chairs. The artiness gets more sedate as you approach your room: the hallways of the upper floors are dedicated to lush photos from films like "In the Mood for Love."

Location

The hotel is in the 798 Art District, home to a lively Beijing cultural scene that took root in an area of decommissioned military factory buildings in the 1990s. Now filled with galleries, cafes, little boutiques and craft shops, the neighborhood, with its Bauhaus-style buildings, has been likened to SoHo in New York.

The Room

Rooms range from the small Artist Studio (with a single bed) to a large Grace Suite. The Superior Room (the basic room for two people) was striking: it held a big gray crushed-velvet sofa and bright green night stands, a desk and closets (complete with Chinese-style latches). A basket overflowing with fresh strawberries was a nice touch, although it made my husband and me wish we still had the glasses of Champagne that we were offered at check-in. We also appreciated the iPod docking station, turndown service (complete with lovely chocolates), stacks of local art magazines and the view of the hotel's serene courtyard.

The Bathroom

Spacious enough for two large sinks and chic, done in black and white with lime green and orange accents. Ba Yan Ka La, a trendy Chinese brand of natural skin-care products, did the toiletries, which included an unusual goji berry soap. The bathtub and a hand-held shower, though, were not intended for taller people. Showering was trying for my husband, taller than six feet.

Amenities

Grace has a restaurant, Yi House, which offers Asian and Mediterranean dishes, and Bar 798. The Grace Group's concierge service lets you make various arrangements ahead of time — from picking your pillows (you can actually choose a traditional Chinese pillow that's filled with hard buckwheat husks) to ordering up a cot. The hotel also has a gym.

Breakfast

Breakfast, free with the room and served in Yi House, presented a mind-boggling set of choices. In addition to coffee and tea, our beverage options included Champagne, mango or chocolate smoothies and a number of juices that we could order infused with rosemary or ginger. We also had our pick of fresh fruit, cheeses and cold cuts, pastries and cereals before even getting to the entrees, which were divided into Asian (congee, century eggs, pork dumplings) and "hot" (eggs Benedict, omelets, oatmeal) selections. My husband's caramelized banana pancake was outstanding; my egg white and sausage fried rice was a little bland.

Bottom Line

A comfortable and stylish option that feels light years away from the hustle and bustle of gritty, touristy Beijing.

Grace Beijing, Jiuxianqiao Lu, 2 Hao Yuan, 798 Yishu Qu, 706 Hou Jie 1 Hao; (86-10) 6436-1818; gracebeijing.com.


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Bites : Eating Among Locals on a Venetian Island

If beautiful Murano glass is a strong draw to the Venetian Lagoon island, camera-snapping groups clogging the canals, and the cookie-cutter restaurants hoping to sell them a pizza along the way, can have the opposite effect. But thanks to a culinary newcomer, there's a reason to return. Opened last April by Giovanna Arcangeli — a Murano native who planned events at the legendary Harry's Bar for a decade and knows a thing or two about preserving a cultured calm in the midst of a touristy enclave — Acquastanca is a refuge from all that. "We wanted to create a place where guests would be able to relax and enjoy good food in a warm, quiet atmosphere with locals," Ms. Arcangeli said.

Marco Ferro/Acquastanca, Venice

A meringue dessert at Acquastanca.

During a recent lunchtime visit, local businessmen taking a stand-up break at the bar were sipping Soave from the Veneto and snacking on cichetti, Venetian snacks like crispy prawns and octopus salad; a group of Venetians and a fashionable Italian mother and her teenage daughter occupied the few wood tables by the canal. Housed in a former bakery, the restaurant is stylish but not overdone: with wood beam ceilings, brick walls and resin floors, the setting is intimate but modern.

Caterina Nason, the chef and Ms. Arcangeli's sister-in-law, focuses on simple preparations of seafood, appropriate for a lagoon restaurant. Highlights include a buttery and perfectly briny spaghetti alle vongole; crispy orata (sea bream), baked in the oven with potatoes; baccalà with polenta; and tagliolini with squid.

One of Ms. Nason's strengths is her house-made desserts, so save room for daily selections like lemon meringue cake, tiramisù and coffee coviglia (a coffee semifreddo). And there's a wine list with a nice selection culled mainly from the nearby regions of Veneto, Friuli and Trentino Alto Adige.

Acquastanca serves as a sort of hideaway for groups like that table of Venetians — not too fancy but with good, local food, where you can stop in from breakfast to dinner for an espresso or a full meal. It has been a successful undertaking mostly because it's a homegrown but sophisticated vision in a city that often feels overpackaged. And if you want to really fit in, ask for an ombra — a little sip of white wine that comes from the old Venetian custom of selling white wine from vendors with little carts in the ombra, or shade, to keep it cool. 

Acquastanca, Fondamenta Manin 48, Murano, Venice; (39-041) 319-5125. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about 30 euros (about $39, at $1.29 to the euro).


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In Transit Blog: Where to Go? Wiki It

The Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that supports and operates Wikipedia, brought its crowd-sourced reference model to the travel industry last month with the introduction of the online guide Wikivoyage. The Web site is one of several specialized wikis backed by the organization, including Wikinews and Wiktionary.

Those spinoffs, though, were not making a foray into travel, a topic that is already replete with crowd-sourced advice that can be found everywhere from TripAdvisor to Foursquare. While such sites promote their volume, Wikivoyage seems to be trying to cut through the clutter. Its user-generated content is filtered and edited into coherent articles, so there's no need to cull through hundreds of reviews — they've already done it for you.

Visitors used to other travel sites will notice something missing besides clutter: in keeping with the foundation's charitable mission, Wikivoyage does not provide any way for users to book travel directly on its site. Its entries, though, include plenty of links to airlines, hotels, restaurants and sights.

Wikivoyage says it already has posted about 50,000 articles in nine languages on destinations ranging from Walt Disney World (above) to Dostoyevsky's summer retreat in Russia. As with other wiki sites, anyone can add to or revise entries, which are monitored by a core group of about 200 volunteer editors.


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Off the Tourist Grid in the Bahamas

Sara Mayti

Workers load cargo onto the Grand Master mail boat on Great Exuma.

Waves rolled through the night, pitching the ship from side to side. From the bridge deck, the white sand beaches of the Exumas glowed blue-white under the starlight, and the rising moon spread a thin layer of silver over the sea. A few miles north, toward our destination in Nassau, lightning flickered.

I was on a freighter heading through the Bahamas. The sweeping view couldn't have been more different from the one on deck: shrink-wrapped palettes cradled cinderblocks, baby diapers and bottled water obscured the bow; oiled two-by-eight planks concealed crates of produce, furniture and hardware stowed in the cargo hold. Amidships, a 70-foot crane was lashed to a steel boom crutch. Tucked away in private cabins behind the wheelhouse, two dozen passengers slept soundly.

The ship was one of 15 government-contracted mail boats that deliver provisions, passengers and a few adventurous tourists to the Out Islands, the hundreds of remote islands beyond the tourist and commercial centers of New Providence, Grand Bahama and Paradise Islands. My boat was one of three mail boats that I took on a six-day, 350-mile journey last spring to explore the Bahamas the way Bahamians do. I had vacationed in the islands several times before, usually cooped up in a resort with every amenity a guest could dream up, and I'd long wanted to get beyond the more touristed areas. Mail boats have been the primary means of interisland travel for locals for more than a century and seemed the perfect way to do it. There are no tour guides or lido deck, and the nighttime entertainment consists largely of gazing at a starry sky over the drone of a diesel engine. But for a shockingly cheap ticket (from $45), passengers can get a meal, a bed and one thing that eludes even the most dogged Caribbean traveler: immersion in authentic Bahamian culture.

Like any respectable seafarer, I kept a log. What follows is an account of the journey, which covers towns, bars and beaches largely uncharted by guidebooks.

Leg 1: Grand Master from George Town, Great Exuma, to Nassau, New Providence. 14 hours; 150 miles.

The Out Islands are made up of more than 700 islands, many of them belonging to particular archipelagos or chains. Each chain is served by its own mail boat system, and because I was vacationing with friends in the Exumas, I started my exploration there. A resident told me about a mail boat heading to Nassau, and I was soon onboard a ship listening to Capt. Lance Brozozog outline our loose itinerary: cross the Tropic of Cancer at sunset; bisect the 360-island Exuma archipelago through a 150-foot-wide channel at midnight; arrive in Nassau sometime after dawn. Mr. Brozozog knows the route well. Since he was a boy, the 41-year-old Bahamian has been loading the Grand Master with food, water, tools, scrap metal and every other provision that helps to keep the Exuma Islands operating.

My room, which was the size of a typical train sleeper compartment, was filled with some of those provisions: screen doors, crates of juice and a half-dozen packages addressed to recipients in Nassau — name and phone number only. There were three other berths in the room, but since the ship wasn't full I had it to myself.

After leaving my bags, I wandered on deck, where Mr. Brozozog chatted with passengers over the din of the big diesel engines rumbling to life. As the sun set he shared some of his own history, which included growing up on nearby Staniel Cay and the honor of captaining one of the most famous crossings in the Exumas: in 2006 he piloted (by remote control) the Black Pearl while Johnny Depp clung to the wheel during the filming of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

He also threw in a recommendation, as did several other islanders onboard: go to the hotel at Junkanoo Beach; visit the food shacks on Potter's Cay in Nassau; avoid Paradise Island at all costs.

Our own meal — served on paper plates — was a Bahamian favorite: barbecued chicken with peas and rice. Afterward, I retired to my cabin for the night, but it soon became clear that, thanks to its location just over the engine room, it would be intolerably hot. At midnight I took the cushion off my bed and dragged it to the upper deck where I was rewarded with a cool breeze and a view of that stunning moonrise and a shooting star falling through the Big Dipper.

Leg 2: Port of Call: Nassau, New Providence. Four hours.

Porter Fox edits the literary travel journal Nowhere, in Brooklyn. His first book, "Deep: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow," will be published this fall.


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In Transit Blog: High-Speed Rail for West Coast

Written By wartini cantika on Rabu, 30 Januari 2013 | 17.35

California has gotten closer to high-speed rail, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority have developed trains capable of operating up to 220 miles an hour for service on both the East and West Coasts, and the California authority received final bids to build the first leg of the state's high-speed rail project, 29 miles of track in the Central Valley. "This brings the state's largest infrastructure undertaking in history one step closer to breaking ground later this year," Mr. LaHood wrote in his Fast Lane blog.
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In Transit Blog: A Room Fit for a Queen

The Goring Hotel in London was recently awarded a royal warrant by Queen Elizabeth, becoming the sole recipient of the honor for lodging. Royal watchers may recognize the name: The hotel is where Kate Middleton stayed before being married to Prince William last year.
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In Transit Blog: Your Disney Questions, Answered

My article in December about the opening of Walt Disney World's New Fantasyland generated many good questions from readers planning their own Disney vacations. Most fell into two broad categories, parks and hotels, so I've answered a number of them below accordingly.

THE PARKS
A reader from Philadelphia asked whether he should avoid visiting Disney at the busiest times of year, perhaps even pull his kids out of school for a couple of days, to beat the crowds. "I'm sure Disney at Christmas or New Year's is spectacular," he wrote, "but knowing how busy those times are, I don't know if it would be worthwhile."

I've been to Walt Disney World during Christmastime and New Year's, and I can tell you that it's delightful — and certainly not as packed as you'd imagine. Many people want to be home for Christmas. Of course, late December flights are more costly. And you should make your meal reservations in advance. But a trip that time of year makes for some of the best Disney photos thanks to elaborate tree trimmings and nighttime light shows. Plus, you'll be there for special performances and events, like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom Park and Holidays Around the World at Epcot. You might just see Santa Claus, too. But peak periods like spring break? That I might avoid.

Another reader, from Utah, asked: When will the parks have a Star Wars attraction?
Disney's Hollywood Studios simulates a trip through a galaxy far, far away with Star Tours — The Adventures Continue, a ride in which guests encounter C3PO and R2D2 and may also glimpse Yoda, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Darth Vader. The ride, which was introduced in 1989, added 3-D technology in 2011 and now has more than 50 story combinations, so you are likely to visit different planets and characters depending on when you blast off.

In the spring, Disney also organizes Star Wars Weekends, where from Friday to Sunday fans (feel free to don a Chewbacca costume) can take part in special activities, like a light-saber battle with Darth Vader (sorry grown-ups, this joust is for kids), or a picture session with their favorite Star Wars characters (all ages). I went last year, and it was a blast.

A reader in Massachusetts wanted to know if meal reservations are a good idea.
Yes. And make them as soon as you know your travel dates. The best places fill up fast. But making reservations at any Disney park or property can easily be done online.

Some readers are interested in what they don't see, including one in Boston who asked if it's possible to get a behind-the-scenes tour of Disney's operations.

Disney offers "backstage magic" tours for visitors 18 and older, but it will cost you. For $229 a person, you get a seven-hour tour through Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, the Central Shops (where craftsmen make set pieces for the parks), Disney's Wilderness Lodge (for a barbecue lunch) and the Walt Disney World Nursery and Tree Farm (to meet with horticulture experts). The tour includes Disney's "utilidor" tunnels, used to stealthily shuttle everything from deliveries to cast members around the park.
A fellow New Yorker asked how one of her favorite rides at Magic Kingdom Park, Peter Pan's Flight, is holding up. Unlike Snow White's Scary Adventures — a classic 1970s ride that was sacrificed to make way for New Fantasyland — Peter Pan is alive and well, with families queuing up into the evening to board pirate ships that fly over London en route to Never Land. That reader also wanted to know if the flow and feel of New Fantasyland is smooth and "magical." The center of New Fantasyland — where a roller coaster called the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is being built — is still under construction so the overall flow is slightly disjointed at the moment. But the large, crescent-shaped route from Enchanted Tales with Belle to the Be Our Guest Restaurant all the way to Ariel's Grotto flows like any other area of the park. Along the way, romantic landscaping is meant to evoke an enchanted forest.

THE HOTELS

A reader in San Francisco wondered if staying at a Disney property is worth the cost and if so, whether staying in a hotel on the monorail line reduces logistical headaches.

If you can afford it, staying at a Disney Resort hotel makes getting around a breeze. There is free round-trip transportation between Orlando International Airport and your hotel. (That's a big plus because taking a cab is at least $60 one way.) Transportation among Disney Resort hotels, theme and water parks, and Downtown Disney — by bus, monorail, ferryboat — is also included. There are other perks, too, like extended hours at a different theme park each day for guests of Disney Resort hotels. And, often, whatever you buy in the parks can be delivered to your Disney Resort hotel so that you don't have to lug it around with you all day.

Disney has a number of "value resort hotels," with most rates starting at about $96 a night. The newest is Disney's Art of Animation Resort (rates start at about $112 a night), which has suites for families and allows for more affordable eating options (there are pizza delivery menus in the rooms). Some travelers may also want to consider the Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, where you can stay in an RV or tent (rates start at $54 a night).

Whether you ought to stay at a hotel on the monorail line depends on the park in which you plan to spend the most time. If, for example, it's the Magic Kingdom, then the monorail is a great, direct option. But if it's Disney's Hollywood Studios, you're better off staying at a hotel on Disney's BoardWalk that's served by ferryboat. The key is to determine where you want to be most often, then select a nearby hotel. That said, all of the parks and hotels can be reached by a combination of various modes of free transportation.

Another New Yorker wrote to say that he would be staying at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel for a business conference and would like recommendations about what to see and do in the parks for adults. I created a brief itinerary of my perfect day for grown-ups, including breakfast at the Dolphin.

In Indiana, a reader asked how to have a Disney vacation "relatively cheaply." In addition to reviewing the hotel recommendations above, buy park tickets in advance. And check out Mousesavers, which lists various places to obtain discount tickets.

I'll wrap up on a personal note. One reader wanted to know which hotel I chose for my first stay in Walt Disney World. Alas, as a child, I did not do the hotel selection. But my parents kicked off my lifelong relationship with Disney by checking us into the Contemporary Resort, which back then was indeed contemporary.


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Frugal Traveler Blog: Should You Buy Travel Insurance?

Would you like to add travel insurance to your purchase?

That little pest of a question pops up every time I book a flight, confirm a hotel room or reserve a rental car. It's become the "Do you want fries with that?" of online travel booking. The difference: sometimes I buy the fries.

I have never bought travel insurance in my life because instinct has always told me that it's a bad deal. I rarely pay for hotel rooms, tours or rental cars in advance. I don't pack designer clothing in my checked luggage. I'm generally healthy, and I have medical insurance that covers me abroad. (It claims to, at least.)

But instinct is a poor way to make decisions about insurance. So with a three-week trip to Asia approaching, I finally decided to figure out whether I should be traveling with insurance, and, in general, when it is smart to have it and when is it unnecessary.

Travelers tend to buy insurance if they are more at risk or more likely than the average policyholder to make a claim. In economics that's called "adverse selection" — but it's adverse only for the insurance companies. For consumers, it's just smart. Imagine two people looking at a $100 insurance policy for a two-week trip: one is a 65-year-old heading to India, where he plans to rent a scooter, eat street food and sleep in already-reserved five-star hotels every night. The other is a 30-year-old going to London, planning to crash at a friend's apartment and buy discount theater tickets every night. It's pretty clear who should buy insurance.

For my own coverage, I looked at packages offered by World Nomads, a popular and well-regarded company that provides travel insurance plans online. (If you are buying insurance, try them — or examine the options at insuremytrip.com, a travel insurance search site.)

Generally, travel insurance is sold in packages, combining various categories of coverage. Go through them all, determining what you need and what you don't, either because you're not at risk or you're already covered. If a package doesn't seem worth it, more customized policies (which you can find through insuremytrip.com, among other sites) offer certain à la carte options. But you may not end up saving that much.

Coverage for my Asia trip through World Nomads would cost me $85 for its standard plan, and $116.40 for slightly more elaborate "explorer" coverage. I looked at each element of their plans — which are similar to most other packages out there — to calculate whether, overall, they might be worth it to me (and to you). Here is a breakdown.

Medical

If your regular health insurance doesn't cover you while abroad, you need some when you travel. Medicare participants and citizens of countries covered by national health services generally fall into this category. Others should check on the specifics of their policies. I have coverage through the Freelancers Insurance Company, which uses the Blue Cross Blue Shield program; my policy states that I'm "assured of receiving care from licensed health care professionals no matter where" I am through the Blue Card Worldwide network.

I went to the Blue Card Worldwide Web site and was relieved to find many affiliated hospitals listed in the Asian cities I was planning to visit.

But I was still suspicious. I offered a hypothetical to the customer service phone line: what if, in an emergency, I ended up at an out-of-network hospital because I couldn't communicate with paramedics or there was no affiliated hospital nearby?

The representative was stumped, put me on hold, and came back. "I checked with a supervisor," she said. "The claim would come through, we would deny it, then you would have to appeal it," she said. Appeals, she added, were made on a "case by case" basis.

In other words: good luck. On the other hand, many travel insurance policies will reimburse medical expenses no matter what hospital you end up at.

Freelancers wouldn't speak on the record to clarify further. But since I wouldn't be engaging in any high-risk activities and I had a fighting chance of being covered should the very unlikely worst-case scenario occur, I decided the medical coverage added minimal benefit. I did, though, arm myself with a printout of all the affiliated facilities in the areas I was visiting.

Emergency Evacuation

This one is simple: without coverage, if I have to be medically evacuated home from a distant land, I'm out something like $30,000. So it comes down to how likely the scenario is. Headed to a particularly isolated region? Climbing mountains or fording rivers? Then having evacuation coverage as part of a package or separately (the cheapest I found for my trip on insuremytrip.com was $40) is a good idea.

Travel Protection

This kind of insurance offers reimbursement (sometimes partial) for prepaid reservations if your trip is canceled, interrupted or delayed. I rarely spend much on a trip before I leave beyond the plane ticket (always coach) and maybe the first night in a hotel (always cheap). But for others, with expensive seats and long prepaid reservations, it might make sense.

Also worth noting: some credit cards will provide similar coverage. My United Mileage Plus Explorer card from Chase does. And although it is probably harder to get a claim processed with Chase than with World Nomads, I didn't see much justification for duplicate coverage.

Baggage Protection

World Nomads will reimburse you for items lost or damaged in transit, and cover expenses incurred because luggage is delayed. For me, this was triplicate coverage: my credit card covers this, and airlines are legally required to reimburse you as well, with limitations.

But the Nomads policy also covers damages and loss beyond your flight. I carry around about $3,000 of electronic equipment everywhere I go, and World Nomads would cover up to $500 per item (after depreciation). It's worth it to determine the value of what's inside your baggage and do the math.

Of course, whether you get reimbursed is partly up to you. A World Nomads customer service representative gave this example: if you leave your cellphone in your bathing suit and go into the water, it's not covered. That's not only the kind of thing I do, it's exactly what I did on a New Year's Eve a few years ago in Rio de Janeiro.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment

I've never understood this one. If you need life insurance, wouldn't you want it for the whole year, not just when you're traveling? And if you lose a limb, will a few grand — what World Nomads offers — really help? (Note that life insurance companies will ask about your travel habits; so be sure you're honest when you apply — and if you already have coverage, be sure it covers the countries you're visiting.)

So Is It Worth It?

Though some elements of the World Nomads package might have benefited me, I decided the package as a whole didn't make sense for my trip. (I did end up buying a yearlong medevac plan I found through insuremytrip.com for $225.)

Though my initial instinct to avoid package insurance had been (coincidentally) right, the process was valuable anyway: I now know a lot more about my medical coverage and credit card perks. Everyone should make similar calculations.

Of course, there's one more variable: if you're a worrier, and having coverage for every imaginable circumstance will allow you to relax and enjoy your trip, then go ahead and do it. I just won't be joining you.


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In Quebec, a Winter Celebration on Skis

Written By wartini cantika on Selasa, 29 Januari 2013 | 17.35

Christinne Muschi for The New York Times

Scenes from Crossing of the Gaspé Peninsula.

Snow squeaked under my boots as I turned up the Rue Ste.-Anne and into the tangerine glow flowing from the streetlamps overhead. The storm that had blown in that afternoon had eased up for the moment, and in the distance I could just make out the sandstone spires of the  St.-Michel church still shrouded in fog.

Though Percé — a small coastal community on the far eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec — has a handful of lovely cafes and taverns overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence, few places are large enough to hold hundreds of people at once. The church could.

So on that night last February I opened its big, white doors, and eased into the warmth of the narthex. I gasped at what lay before me. Some 350 cross-country skiers with rubicund faces from three days of playing outside were packed in the nave that caterers had transformed into a magnificent dining hall. Pews ran perpendicular to the altar, and bread and wine sat on dozens of long wooden tables. Yak sausages and sauerkraut steamed in chafing dishes beneath the gaze of saints who peered down from white walls. A jazz band waited in the pulpit, but for now the air rang with the mournful notes of  "Sposa son disprezzata"  from a lone soprano in the loft.

This had to be the coolest ski week on earth.

For the past decade, hundreds of cross-country skiers — nearly all of them from Quebec — have descended once a year on rural communities like Percé as part of a six-day, 100-mile-plus ski odyssey through the eastern pleats of Canada's largest province. The Crossing of the Gaspé Peninsula, or the Traversée de la Gaspésie, as it is known in French, is hardly a race. Rather, it is a roaming celebration of winter. And while the exact route changes every year, the idea is always the same: to come together, have fun and ski.

"It's always fantastic," said Chantal Hivon, a retired treasury employee from Montreal, who was on her fourth crossing since 2006. "It's a demanding week, but also recharging. The places you get to go are just incredible."

Sandwiched between the St. Lawrence River and Chaleur Bay, the Gaspé holds some of Quebec's most impressive peaks. The Chic-Chocs soar up to around 4,000 feet and collect more than 20 feet of snowfall a year. Caribou and moose roam the region, which has just 100,000 people spread over an area about the size of one and a half Connecticuts.

The first event in 2003 was a true traverse, which meant 50-mile days with little pampering. "The lucky ones got to sleep under a table," said Sharon Braverman, a simultaneous translator from Montreal who was on that first trip. "You were so exhausted you didn't care."

These days the T.D.L.G. offers a softer experience. Instead of traveling point-to-point on skis, participants spend a few days at a time in one spot — a lodge, inn or a local's home — and slip out along trails that volunteers groom just for the event. Come evening, skiers return by bus to the same base for communal meals at any place big enough to hold them all. The group then travels by bus to the next town to explore anew.

As an avid skier in all its forms, I had learned of the crossing while researching ways to combine my twin passions for snow and all things French. The event sounded like one of those cross-state bicycle rides but on skis. Bands play along the trails. Movie stars cook and entertain. There would be lectures by provincial celebrities like the astronaut Julie Payette and the pilot Robert Piché, a reformed drug smuggler who once saved 306 lives aboard a malfunctioning Airbus. At the end of each day's ski I could expect a trailside party complete with an accordion player and shots of Caribou, a French Canadian cocktail of wine and booze softened with warm maple syrup.

TIM NEVILLE, who lives in Oregon, writes frequently about the outdoors.


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Journeys : A Monsoon, Then Underwater Magic in Malaysia

DanitaDelimont.com/Newscom

Staff bungalows at the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort.

We were in fins and snorkel masks, navigating the thicket of wooden posts that lift the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort above the limpid waters of the Sulu Sea off Sabah, Malaysia. Around us were enough tropical fish to make not a school, but a university and all its departments: a score of yellow-and-black-striped tigerfish, stock-still under the stairs; a massive grouper, presiding over an artificial reef; banner fish, angelfish, starfish, parrotfish, needlefish, you name it, lounging amid corals and darting between rocks.

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Charles Hood/Zumapress.com, via Newscom (green turtle); Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock/Zumapress.com, via Newscom (western clown anemonefish and squarespot anthius)

From top: green turtle, western clown anemonefish and squarespot anthius.

Then came an underwater yelp, loud enough to make waves, from 16-year-old Jack. "Something bit me!" he said after surfacing, pointing to an inchlong welt on his leg that was in the shape of a mouth. And so something had: a dull brown triggerfish, maybe 18 inches long, which apparently mistook him for the vanguard of a home invasion.

"They can get aggressive around mating time," our scuba instructor, Alex, said later.

Imagine that: a tropical resort where the fish bite, and the mosquitoes don't.

Actually, there are no mosquitoes at Kapalai to speak of — and no palm trees, except in pots; no beach, unless you count a slender sandbar that peeks above the waves at low tide; no rental cars, no shopping street, no bars. There is only a web of spacious chalets linked by boardwalks and an ocean stretching to the edge of the sky and beyond.

That, and those amazing fish.

Kapalai is an artificial island, a diver's nirvana atop wooden stilts sunk into a shallow reef, 40 minutes by speedboat from Malaysia's easternmost coast. Water is not just the compelling attraction; it's the only one. If you are so inclined (and you will be), world-class snorkeling is as easy as duck-walking in your flippers out a chalet door and down the stairs, straight into the sea.

But snorkeling is just the appetizer in an underwater banquet. Kapalai is also the closest habitable spot to Sipadan Island, a tree-shrouded speck that is among the top scuba-diving destinations on earth. Twenty more minutes by boat transports you to a wonderland teeming with barracuda, sea turtles, sharks, pumpkin-size clams and enough psychedelic fish — 3,000 species, by experts' reckoning — to dazzle the most jaded ichthyologist.

The World Wildlife Federation has called it one of the most diverse spots on the planet. In 1989 Jacques Cousteau labeled it "an untouched piece of art."

Our family of five — husband and wife; twins, Jack and Nikki; and 23-year-old Brett — are obsessive getaway planners, poring for weeks over Web sites and dog-eared Lonely Planets for locations with enough diversions to suit five different tastes and enough solitude to allow a good rest. We had booked rooms at a small island resort with a gorgeous beach and kayaks.

Then fate intervened. A Malaysian monsoon blew us out of that place and into its sister resort Kapalai, 165 miles south. We cursed our luck at being stuck literally in the middle of nowhere. We worried about being round pegs in a square hole full of scuba veterans. And we were certain that a diet of unabated diving would leave us stir-crazy after a couple of days. No beach? Are you kidding?

Kapalai, as we soon learned, is spare, but not spartan — its 59 chalets are roomy cathedrals with infinite ocean views from the decks, a cooling wind and nothing but the sound of lapping water and the sway of creaking timbers to lull you to sleep. No restaurant scene here: the food, a fish-heavy mix of Malaysian cuisine and Western favorites like spaghetti for the younger set, is cooked on-site and served at a sprawling buffet. Nor are there televisions, in-room telephones or room service, though Wi-Fi can be had in the combination dining room and lobby. Diversions are limited to a tiny gift shop, a rudimentary bar, a Ping-Pong table and a stack of books on local sea life. Beyond the daily speedboats that deliver fresh guests and remove stale ones, about the only visitors are Malaysian armed forces patrols on the lookout for pirates (more on that later).


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Explorer : Mud, Leeches and Stunning Beauty in Tasmania

Alex Hutchinson for The New York Times

Hiking through a muddy section of the trail.

I stole my first glimpses of Tasmania's rocky southern coastline from about 2,000 feet up, peering through the rounded pane of the cockpit window whenever I felt composed enough to look up from my sick bag. Beside me, our pilot, Thomas, was riding the yoke as if it was a mechanical bull, trying to keep the single-engine Cessna steady as gusts roared in from the Southern Ocean.

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Alex Hutchinson for The New York Times

Waves crash into the shore along Tasmania's South Coast Track.

My wife, Lauren, and I were on our way to the starting point of the South Coast Track, a seven-day tramp along a trail that remains as untamed now as it was over a century ago, when the route was first blazed to help shipwrecked sailors find their way back to civilization. This swath of wilderness, protected as part of the 2,300-square-mile Southwest National Park, is the last stop from Australia before Antarctica. Its remoteness, rugged terrain and often fearsome weather have kept it essentially uninhabited and unexploited — for good reason, as we would soon find out.

We had ordered a slim guidebook to the trail — the only one available — and were reassured to read that "many experienced walkers regard the track as easy." The route spans a modest 52 miles, with campsites peppered throughout, so we decided to finish it in seven days (the guide recommended seven or eight), and splice a demanding three-day side trip to a nearby mountain peak into the middle, for a total of 10 days. After all, we didn't want to squander our vacation on an insufficiently challenging trip.

Thomas finally turned the plane inland, and pointed into the distance. We could see a tiny splotch of white in the otherwise unbroken sea of green scrubland: a patch of flat gravel that would serve as our makeshift airstrip. From here we would hike back down to the coast, then follow it from the southwest corner of the island to the southeast, finishing at the southernmost tip of the southernmost road in Australia — a spot marked by a wooden sign engraved with the words "The End of the Road" — where a pickup truck would be waiting to shuttle us back to Hobart, the Tasmanian capital. (The trail has been unaffected by recent widespread wildfires.)

That first day — after our inner ears had regained their equilibrium — was idyllic. After three hours of walking across gentle buttongrass plains, we reached the coast and camped in a sheltered grove of eucalyptus trees next to a creek. As the sun set, we strolled along a beach dotted with starfish, watching wallabies and pademelons — mini kangaroos, essentially — feed among the dunes, while oystercatchers swooped above the crashing waves.

We woke the next morning to the steady patter of rain on our tent — not a big surprise in a region where it rains an average 250 days a year, but a gentle reminder that the trip wouldn't be all moonlit walks and cute marsupials. We hastily strung up the ultralight silicone-coated tarp we'd bought specially for the trip, and breakfasted under it in relative comfort. Then we hoisted our packs and set out eastward along the beach.

Though the route follows the water as much as possible, there are stretches where the coastal cliffs are impassable. This necessitates long inland detours across poorly drained moors, through lush rain forest, over two subalpine mountain ranges and through dense scrub that's "as thick as hair on a cat's back," as one of the original trailblazers described it in 1906.

Much has been done since those days to smooth the passage of the modern traveler — boardwalks over some of the swampier quagmires, ropes strung across deep river crossings, basic pit toilets at some of the most common camping spots. Still, no two trips along the trail follow exactly the same path, thanks to the constantly shifting coastline and the tides. Picking our way along the route, we started to get a taste of the coastline's stunning topographical diversity: beaches alternating with rocky inlets, gnarled trees twisting away from the salty wind, columns of water erupting from blowholes at the base of dramatic cliffs.

Partway through our second morning, we reached a set of cliffs that jutted out into the water, blocking the beach we were trying to follow. Skirting the base of these cliffs is "normally easy except at high tide," our guidebook blithely assured us. Seeing that the tide was still rising, we hurriedly began to pick our way from boulder to boulder, scurrying along the sand between waves.

It turns out that oceans are much less regular and predictable than we, in our landlubbering ignorance, had presumed. Rocks that had been comfortably out of the water during one set of waves were suddenly under two feet of pushy surf in the next set. Soaked to the thighs and clinging to the abrasive cliff face with white knuckles, we eventually made it to the other side with a recalibrated sense of what "normally easy" means.


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In Transit Blog: Walkabout - 1/28: What to Do With Your Dreamliner Ticket, and Jersey Shore

Walkabout

A weekly capsule of travel news curated by our writers and editors.

Not So Dreamy After a spate of battery fires grounded Boeing's 787 Dreamliner fleet, Japanese investigators said they found no quality control problems at the maker of the lithium-ion batteries. (New York Times)

Dreams Deferred Bought a ticket aboard a Dreamliner? A summary of each airline's alternate schedules and 787 replacement plans. (Condé Nast Traveler)

Open for Business? Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is eager to get the Jersey Shore back on its feet by summer. But is the coastline ready? (WNYC)

Outsize Oenophilia For globe-trotting wine collectors who have no place to store their bottles, cellars like Phenol55 in Seattle provide proper storage. A new iPhone app also allows clients organize their collections. (Cool Hunting)

Last Frontier Space tourism may be on the horizon, but once we get there, where do we stay? One Las Vegas-based businessman has an answer — inflatable space pods — and he's investing $500 million in the idea. (Bloomberg)


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Heads Up : Airline Safety Videos: A Seat Belt Reminder and a Smile

Written By wartini cantika on Senin, 28 Januari 2013 | 17.35

Delta Air Lines

Katherine Lee, a k a Deltalina, in a Delta pop-up video.

It is the most ignored — and usually most soporific — moment of any flight: the safety announcement, that pretakeoff ritual that often leads to travelers closing their eyes. Who among us, after all, doesn't know how to unbuckle a seat belt? Yawn.  

Airlines, mind you, don't see it that way, since they are legally obligated to tell passengers what to do if things go wrong. And they have struggled over the years to keep things interesting, using wisecracking flight attendants as well as deadly serious warnings about emergency slides, water landings and the dreaded "loss of cabin pressure."

Some carriers have lately stepped up that assault on aviation apathy by showing preflight videos that are a mix of the serious and the surreal. Take, for instance, a new effort by Delta Air Lines, which invites fliers to find various bizarre details in their safety videos — a "What's wrong with this picture?" approach that includes cameos by a big yellow robot, a tiny suitcase and the semifamous flight attendant known as Deltalina (more on her later).

Mauricio Parise, general manager for marketing communications at Delta, said that the two new videos, which had their debut in November, were meant to illustrate both the airline's plucky spirit and its continuing need to "make sure that people pay attention."

"We try to find a way to tell the story, and make it fresh," he said.

They aren't the first. In 2007, Virgin America also rolled out a cheeky animated version of the safety announcement, complete with flying fish, matadors and a multitasking nun. The video begins by asking passengers to check out the safety card in the seat pocket in front of them — "Not only does it have pretty pictures, but it has important information" — before bringing up the seemingly inane seat belt reminder.

"For the .0001 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before, it works like this," the narrator says in a tone dripping with sarcasm.

Foreign carriers have also played it for laughs. Air New Zealand recently employed the flamboyant fitness instructor Richard Simmons to make its announcement stand out, with a video that included women in Day-Glo leotards, men in Day-Glo headbands and Mr. Simmons's somewhat unhinged delivery.

"Stretch and slide! Yeah! You're a giraffe!" Mr. Simmons quips, apropos of, well, it's not clear.

A goofier video — "An Unexpected Briefing," based on "The Hobbit" and featuring elves, wizards and hairy feet — was an even bigger hit, with millions of downloads on YouTube.

The safety announcement requirement dates to the 1960s, when the Federal Aviation Administration started outlining the various bits of information that the airlines need to convey — exits, oxygen, etc. But it leaves the presentation of it up to the airlines. "We specify the 'what,' " said Les Dorr Jr., an F.A.A. spokesman. "And it's up to the air carriers to determine the 'how.' "

That said, Abby Lunardini, a spokeswoman for Virgin America, said the administration was "involved directly with the edits and the re-edits" of the airline's 2007 video, including offering its critique of the animated visuals.

But even airlines that still do the announcement the old-fashioned way — in person — say they have sometimes made an effort to liven things up preflight. Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said that while "not every flight is a riotous comedy act," its flight attendants had found that "people pay better attention when the material is compelling."

Ditto for JetBlue, which said its crews "often interject a sense of humor into the onboard announcements" to both engage customers and help them relax.

As for Delta, the airline says its new video has been favorably received by fliers, especially a cameo by Katherine Lee, the red-haired flight attendant whose sassy — and sexy — appearance in a previous flight video earned her the nickname Deltalina. (Think a lesser known Angelina Jolie, serving you a drink at 35,000 feet.)

Whitney Pastorek, a freelance writer, said she saw the new video — and Deltalina — on a recent flight, and approved. "My whole plane made this sort of 'aww'-ing noise," Ms. Pastorek said, "like when people see someone's new baby for the first time."


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In Quebec, a Winter Celebration on Skis

Christinne Muschi for The New York Times

Scenes from Crossing of the Gaspé Peninsula.

Snow squeaked under my boots as I turned up the Rue Ste.-Anne and into the tangerine glow flowing from the streetlamps overhead. The storm that had blown in that afternoon had eased up for the moment, and in the distance I could just make out the sandstone spires of the  St.-Michel church still shrouded in fog.

Though Percé — a small coastal community on the far eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec — has a handful of lovely cafes and taverns overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence, few places are large enough to hold hundreds of people at once. The church could.

So on that night last February I opened its big, white doors, and eased into the warmth of the narthex. I gasped at what lay before me. Some 350 cross-country skiers with rubicund faces from three days of playing outside were packed in the nave that caterers had transformed into a magnificent dining hall. Pews ran perpendicular to the altar, and bread and wine sat on dozens of long wooden tables. Yak sausages and sauerkraut steamed in chafing dishes beneath the gaze of saints who peered down from white walls. A jazz band waited in the pulpit, but for now the air rang with the mournful notes of  "Sposa son disprezzata"  from a lone soprano in the loft.

This had to be the coolest ski week on earth.

For the past decade, hundreds of cross-country skiers — nearly all of them from Quebec — have descended once a year on rural communities like Percé as part of a six-day, 100-mile-plus ski odyssey through the eastern pleats of Canada's largest province. The Crossing of the Gaspé Peninsula, or the Traversée de la Gaspésie, as it is known in French, is hardly a race. Rather, it is a roaming celebration of winter. And while the exact route changes every year, the idea is always the same: to come together, have fun and ski.

"It's always fantastic," said Chantal Hivon, a retired treasury employee from Montreal, who was on her fourth crossing since 2006. "It's a demanding week, but also recharging. The places you get to go are just incredible."

Sandwiched between the St. Lawrence River and Chaleur Bay, the Gaspé holds some of Quebec's most impressive peaks. The Chic-Chocs soar up to around 4,000 feet and collect more than 20 feet of snowfall a year. Caribou and moose roam the region, which has just 100,000 people spread over an area about the size of one and a half Connecticuts.

The first event in 2003 was a true traverse, which meant 50-mile days with little pampering. "The lucky ones got to sleep under a table," said Sharon Braverman, a simultaneous translator from Montreal who was on that first trip. "You were so exhausted you didn't care."

These days the T.D.L.G. offers a softer experience. Instead of traveling point-to-point on skis, participants spend a few days at a time in one spot — a lodge, inn or a local's home — and slip out along trails that volunteers groom just for the event. Come evening, skiers return by bus to the same base for communal meals at any place big enough to hold them all. The group then travels by bus to the next town to explore anew.

As an avid skier in all its forms, I had learned of the crossing while researching ways to combine my twin passions for snow and all things French. The event sounded like one of those cross-state bicycle rides but on skis. Bands play along the trails. Movie stars cook and entertain. There would be lectures by provincial celebrities like the astronaut Julie Payette and the pilot Robert Piché, a reformed drug smuggler who once saved 306 lives aboard a malfunctioning Airbus. At the end of each day's ski I could expect a trailside party complete with an accordion player and shots of Caribou, a French Canadian cocktail of wine and booze softened with warm maple syrup.

TIM NEVILLE, who lives in Oregon, writes frequently about the outdoors.


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Journeys : A Monsoon, Then Underwater Magic in Malaysia

DanitaDelimont.com/Newscom

Staff bungalows at the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort.

We were in fins and snorkel masks, navigating the thicket of wooden posts that lift the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort above the limpid waters of the Sulu Sea off Sabah, Malaysia. Around us were enough tropical fish to make not a school, but a university and all its departments: a score of yellow-and-black-striped tigerfish, stock-still under the stairs; a massive grouper, presiding over an artificial reef; banner fish, angelfish, starfish, parrotfish, needlefish, you name it, lounging amid corals and darting between rocks.

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Charles Hood/Zumapress.com, via Newscom (green turtle); Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock/Zumapress.com, via Newscom (western clown anemonefish and squarespot anthius)

From top: green turtle, western clown anemonefish and squarespot anthius.

Then came an underwater yelp, loud enough to make waves, from 16-year-old Jack. "Something bit me!" he said after surfacing, pointing to an inchlong welt on his leg that was in the shape of a mouth. And so something had: a dull brown triggerfish, maybe 18 inches long, which apparently mistook him for the vanguard of a home invasion.

"They can get aggressive around mating time," our scuba instructor, Alex, said later.

Imagine that: a tropical resort where the fish bite, and the mosquitoes don't.

Actually, there are no mosquitoes at Kapalai to speak of — and no palm trees, except in pots; no beach, unless you count a slender sandbar that peeks above the waves at low tide; no rental cars, no shopping street, no bars. There is only a web of spacious chalets linked by boardwalks and an ocean stretching to the edge of the sky and beyond.

That, and those amazing fish.

Kapalai is an artificial island, a diver's nirvana atop wooden stilts sunk into a shallow reef, 40 minutes by speedboat from Malaysia's easternmost coast. Water is not just the compelling attraction; it's the only one. If you are so inclined (and you will be), world-class snorkeling is as easy as duck-walking in your flippers out a chalet door and down the stairs, straight into the sea.

But snorkeling is just the appetizer in an underwater banquet. Kapalai is also the closest habitable spot to Sipadan Island, a tree-shrouded speck that is among the top scuba-diving destinations on earth. Twenty more minutes by boat transports you to a wonderland teeming with barracuda, sea turtles, sharks, pumpkin-size clams and enough psychedelic fish — 3,000 species, by experts' reckoning — to dazzle the most jaded ichthyologist.

The World Wildlife Federation has called it one of the most diverse spots on the planet. In 1989 Jacques Cousteau labeled it "an untouched piece of art."

Our family of five — husband and wife; twins, Jack and Nikki; and 23-year-old Brett — are obsessive getaway planners, poring for weeks over Web sites and dog-eared Lonely Planets for locations with enough diversions to suit five different tastes and enough solitude to allow a good rest. We had booked rooms at a small island resort with a gorgeous beach and kayaks.

Then fate intervened. A Malaysian monsoon blew us out of that place and into its sister resort Kapalai, 165 miles south. We cursed our luck at being stuck literally in the middle of nowhere. We worried about being round pegs in a square hole full of scuba veterans. And we were certain that a diet of unabated diving would leave us stir-crazy after a couple of days. No beach? Are you kidding?

Kapalai, as we soon learned, is spare, but not spartan — its 59 chalets are roomy cathedrals with infinite ocean views from the decks, a cooling wind and nothing but the sound of lapping water and the sway of creaking timbers to lull you to sleep. No restaurant scene here: the food, a fish-heavy mix of Malaysian cuisine and Western favorites like spaghetti for the younger set, is cooked on-site and served at a sprawling buffet. Nor are there televisions, in-room telephones or room service, though Wi-Fi can be had in the combination dining room and lobby. Diversions are limited to a tiny gift shop, a rudimentary bar, a Ping-Pong table and a stack of books on local sea life. Beyond the daily speedboats that deliver fresh guests and remove stale ones, about the only visitors are Malaysian armed forces patrols on the lookout for pirates (more on that later).


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Explorer : Mud, Leeches and Stunning Beauty in Tasmania

Alex Hutchinson for The New York Times

Waves crash into the shore along Tasmania's South Coast Track.

I stole my first glimpses of Tasmania's rocky southern coastline from about 2,000 feet up, peering through the rounded pane of the cockpit window whenever I felt composed enough to look up from my sick bag. Beside me, our pilot, Thomas, was riding the yoke as if it was a mechanical bull, trying to keep the single-engine Cessna steady as gusts roared in from the Southern Ocean.

My wife, Lauren, and I were on our way to the starting point of the South Coast Track, a seven-day tramp along a trail that remains as untamed now as it was over a century ago, when the route was first blazed to help shipwrecked sailors find their way back to civilization. This swath of wilderness, protected as part of the 2,300-square-mile Southwest National Park, is the last stop from Australia before Antarctica. Its remoteness, rugged terrain and often fearsome weather have kept it essentially uninhabited and unexploited — for good reason, as we would soon find out.

We had ordered a slim guidebook to the trail — the only one available — and were reassured to read that "many experienced walkers regard the track as easy." The route spans a modest 52 miles, with campsites peppered throughout, so we decided to finish it in seven days (the guide recommended seven or eight), and splice a demanding three-day side trip to a nearby mountain peak into the middle, for a total of 10 days. After all, we didn't want to squander our vacation on an insufficiently challenging trip.

Thomas finally turned the plane inland, and pointed into the distance. We could see a tiny splotch of white in the otherwise unbroken sea of green scrubland: a patch of flat gravel that would serve as our makeshift airstrip. From here we would hike back down to the coast, then follow it from the southwest corner of the island to the southeast, finishing at the southernmost tip of the southernmost road in Australia — a spot marked by a wooden sign engraved with the words "The End of the Road" — where a pickup truck would be waiting to shuttle us back to Hobart, the Tasmanian capital. (The trail has been unaffected by recent widespread wildfires.)

That first day — after our inner ears had regained their equilibrium — was idyllic. After three hours of walking across gentle buttongrass plains, we reached the coast and camped in a sheltered grove of eucalyptus trees next to a creek. As the sun set, we strolled along a beach dotted with starfish, watching wallabies and pademelons — mini kangaroos, essentially — feed among the dunes, while oystercatchers swooped above the crashing waves.

We woke the next morning to the steady patter of rain on our tent — not a big surprise in a region where it rains an average 250 days a year, but a gentle reminder that the trip wouldn't be all moonlit walks and cute marsupials. We hastily strung up the ultralight silicone-coated tarp we'd bought specially for the trip, and breakfasted under it in relative comfort. Then we hoisted our packs and set out eastward along the beach.

Though the route follows the water as much as possible, there are stretches where the coastal cliffs are impassable. This necessitates long inland detours across poorly drained moors, through lush rain forest, over two subalpine mountain ranges and through dense scrub that's "as thick as hair on a cat's back," as one of the original trailblazers described it in 1906.

Much has been done since those days to smooth the passage of the modern traveler — boardwalks over some of the swampier quagmires, ropes strung across deep river crossings, basic pit toilets at some of the most common camping spots. Still, no two trips along the trail follow exactly the same path, thanks to the constantly shifting coastline and the tides. Picking our way along the route, we started to get a taste of the coastline's stunning topographical diversity: beaches alternating with rocky inlets, gnarled trees twisting away from the salty wind, columns of water erupting from blowholes at the base of dramatic cliffs.

Partway through our second morning, we reached a set of cliffs that jutted out into the water, blocking the beach we were trying to follow. Skirting the base of these cliffs is "normally easy except at high tide," our guidebook blithely assured us. Seeing that the tide was still rising, we hurriedly began to pick our way from boulder to boulder, scurrying along the sand between waves.

It turns out that oceans are much less regular and predictable than we, in our landlubbering ignorance, had presumed. Rocks that had been comfortably out of the water during one set of waves were suddenly under two feet of pushy surf in the next set. Soaked to the thighs and clinging to the abrasive cliff face with white knuckles, we eventually made it to the other side with a recalibrated sense of what "normally easy" means.


17.35 | 0 komentar | Read More

Heads Up : Airline Safety Videos: A Seat Belt Reminder and a Smile

Written By wartini cantika on Minggu, 27 Januari 2013 | 17.35

Delta Air Lines

Katherine Lee, a k a Deltalina, in a Delta pop-up video.

It is the most ignored — and usually most soporific — moment of any flight: the safety announcement, that pretakeoff ritual that often leads to travelers closing their eyes. Who among us, after all, doesn't know how to unbuckle a seat belt? Yawn.  

Airlines, mind you, don't see it that way, since they are legally obligated to tell passengers what to do if things go wrong. And they have struggled over the years to keep things interesting, using wisecracking flight attendants as well as deadly serious warnings about emergency slides, water landings and the dreaded "loss of cabin pressure."

Some carriers have lately stepped up that assault on aviation apathy by showing preflight videos that are a mix of the serious and the surreal. Take, for instance, a new effort by Delta Air Lines, which invites fliers to find various bizarre details in their safety videos — a "What's wrong with this picture?" approach that includes cameos by a big yellow robot, a tiny suitcase and the semifamous flight attendant known as Deltalina (more on her later).

Mauricio Parise, general manager for marketing communications at Delta, said that the two new videos, which had their debut in November, were meant to illustrate both the airline's plucky spirit and its continuing need to "make sure that people pay attention."

"We try to find a way to tell the story, and make it fresh," he said.

They aren't the first. In 2007, Virgin America also rolled out a cheeky animated version of the safety announcement, complete with flying fish, matadors and a multitasking nun. The video begins by asking passengers to check out the safety card in the seat pocket in front of them — "Not only does it have pretty pictures, but it has important information" — before bringing up the seemingly inane seat belt reminder.

"For the .0001 percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before, it works like this," the narrator says in a tone dripping with sarcasm.

Foreign carriers have also played it for laughs. Air New Zealand recently employed the flamboyant fitness instructor Richard Simmons to make its announcement stand out, with a video that included women in Day-Glo leotards, men in Day-Glo headbands and Mr. Simmons's somewhat unhinged delivery.

"Stretch and slide! Yeah! You're a giraffe!" Mr. Simmons quips, apropos of, well, it's not clear.

A goofier video — "An Unexpected Briefing," based on "The Hobbit" and featuring elves, wizards and hairy feet — was an even bigger hit, with millions of downloads on YouTube.

The safety announcement requirement dates to the 1960s, when the Federal Aviation Administration started outlining the various bits of information that the airlines need to convey — exits, oxygen, etc. But it leaves the presentation of it up to the airlines. "We specify the 'what,' " said Les Dorr Jr., an F.A.A. spokesman. "And it's up to the air carriers to determine the 'how.' "

That said, Abby Lunardini, a spokeswoman for Virgin America, said the administration was "involved directly with the edits and the re-edits" of the airline's 2007 video, including offering its critique of the animated visuals.

But even airlines that still do the announcement the old-fashioned way — in person — say they have sometimes made an effort to liven things up preflight. Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said that while "not every flight is a riotous comedy act," its flight attendants had found that "people pay better attention when the material is compelling."

Ditto for JetBlue, which said its crews "often interject a sense of humor into the onboard announcements" to both engage customers and help them relax.

As for Delta, the airline says its new video has been favorably received by fliers, especially a cameo by Katherine Lee, the red-haired flight attendant whose sassy — and sexy — appearance in a previous flight video earned her the nickname Deltalina. (Think a lesser known Angelina Jolie, serving you a drink at 35,000 feet.)

Whitney Pastorek, a freelance writer, said she saw the new video — and Deltalina — on a recent flight, and approved. "My whole plane made this sort of 'aww'-ing noise," Ms. Pastorek said, "like when people see someone's new baby for the first time."


17.35 | 0 komentar | Read More

In Quebec, a Winter Celebration on Skis

Christinne Muschi for The New York Times

Scenes from Crossing of the Gaspé Peninsula.

Snow squeaked under my boots as I turned up the Rue Ste.-Anne and into the tangerine glow flowing from the streetlamps overhead. The storm that had blown in that afternoon had eased up for the moment, and in the distance I could just make out the sandstone spires of the  St.-Michel church still shrouded in fog.

Though Percé — a small coastal community on the far eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec — has a handful of lovely cafes and taverns overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence, few places are large enough to hold hundreds of people at once. The church could.

So on that night last February I opened its big, white doors, and eased into the warmth of the narthex. I gasped at what lay before me. Some 350 cross-country skiers with rubicund faces from three days of playing outside were packed in the nave that caterers had transformed into a magnificent dining hall. Pews ran perpendicular to the altar, and bread and wine sat on dozens of long wooden tables. Yak sausages and sauerkraut steamed in chafing dishes beneath the gaze of saints who peered down from white walls. A jazz band waited in the pulpit, but for now the air rang with the mournful notes of  "Sposa son disprezzata"  from a lone soprano in the loft.

This had to be the coolest ski week on earth.

For the past decade, hundreds of cross-country skiers — nearly all of them from Quebec — have descended once a year on rural communities like Percé as part of a six-day, 100-mile-plus ski odyssey through the eastern pleats of Canada's largest province. The Crossing of the Gaspé Peninsula, or the Traversée de la Gaspésie, as it is known in French, is hardly a race. Rather, it is a roaming celebration of winter. And while the exact route changes every year, the idea is always the same: to come together, have fun and ski.

"It's always fantastic," said Chantal Hivon, a retired treasury employee from Montreal, who was on her fourth crossing since 2006. "It's a demanding week, but also recharging. The places you get to go are just incredible."

Sandwiched between the St. Lawrence River and Chaleur Bay, the Gaspé holds some of Quebec's most impressive peaks. The Chic-Chocs soar up to around 4,000 feet and collect more than 20 feet of snowfall a year. Caribou and moose roam the region, which has just 100,000 people spread over an area about the size of one and a half Connecticuts.

The first event in 2003 was a true traverse, which meant 50-mile days with little pampering. "The lucky ones got to sleep under a table," said Sharon Braverman, a simultaneous translator from Montreal who was on that first trip. "You were so exhausted you didn't care."

These days the T.D.L.G. offers a softer experience. Instead of traveling point-to-point on skis, participants spend a few days at a time in one spot — a lodge, inn or a local's home — and slip out along trails that volunteers groom just for the event. Come evening, skiers return by bus to the same base for communal meals at any place big enough to hold them all. The group then travels by bus to the next town to explore anew.

As an avid skier in all its forms, I had learned of the crossing while researching ways to combine my twin passions for snow and all things French. The event sounded like one of those cross-state bicycle rides but on skis. Bands play along the trails. Movie stars cook and entertain. There would be lectures by provincial celebrities like the astronaut Julie Payette and the pilot Robert Piché, a reformed drug smuggler who once saved 306 lives aboard a malfunctioning Airbus. At the end of each day's ski I could expect a trailside party complete with an accordion player and shots of Caribou, a French Canadian cocktail of wine and booze softened with warm maple syrup.

TIM NEVILLE, who lives in Oregon, writes frequently about the outdoors.


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Journeys : A Monsoon, Then Underwater Magic in Malaysia

DanitaDelimont.com/Newscom

Staff bungalows at the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort.

We were in fins and snorkel masks, navigating the thicket of wooden posts that lift the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort above the limpid waters of the Sulu Sea off Sabah, Malaysia. Around us were enough tropical fish to make not a school, but a university and all its departments: a score of yellow-and-black-striped tigerfish, stock-still under the stairs; a massive grouper, presiding over an artificial reef; banner fish, angelfish, starfish, parrotfish, needlefish, you name it, lounging amid corals and darting between rocks.

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Charles Hood/Zumapress.com, via Newscom (green turtle); Burt Jones & Maurine Shimlock/Zumapress.com, via Newscom (western clown anemonefish and squarespot anthius)

From top: green turtle, western clown anemonefish and squarespot anthius.

Then came an underwater yelp, loud enough to make waves, from 16-year-old Jack. "Something bit me!" he said after surfacing, pointing to an inchlong welt on his leg that was in the shape of a mouth. And so something had: a dull brown triggerfish, maybe 18 inches long, which apparently mistook him for the vanguard of a home invasion.

"They can get aggressive around mating time," our scuba instructor, Alex, said later.

Imagine that: a tropical resort where the fish bite, and the mosquitoes don't.

Actually, there are no mosquitoes at Kapalai to speak of — and no palm trees, except in pots; no beach, unless you count a slender sandbar that peeks above the waves at low tide; no rental cars, no shopping street, no bars. There is only a web of spacious chalets linked by boardwalks and an ocean stretching to the edge of the sky and beyond.

That, and those amazing fish.

Kapalai is an artificial island, a diver's nirvana atop wooden stilts sunk into a shallow reef, 40 minutes by speedboat from Malaysia's easternmost coast. Water is not just the compelling attraction; it's the only one. If you are so inclined (and you will be), world-class snorkeling is as easy as duck-walking in your flippers out a chalet door and down the stairs, straight into the sea.

But snorkeling is just the appetizer in an underwater banquet. Kapalai is also the closest habitable spot to Sipadan Island, a tree-shrouded speck that is among the top scuba-diving destinations on earth. Twenty more minutes by boat transports you to a wonderland teeming with barracuda, sea turtles, sharks, pumpkin-size clams and enough psychedelic fish — 3,000 species, by experts' reckoning — to dazzle the most jaded ichthyologist.

The World Wildlife Federation has called it one of the most diverse spots on the planet. In 1989 Jacques Cousteau labeled it "an untouched piece of art."

Our family of five — husband and wife; twins, Jack and Nikki; and 23-year-old Brett — are obsessive getaway planners, poring for weeks over Web sites and dog-eared Lonely Planets for locations with enough diversions to suit five different tastes and enough solitude to allow a good rest. We had booked rooms at a small island resort with a gorgeous beach and kayaks.

Then fate intervened. A Malaysian monsoon blew us out of that place and into its sister resort Kapalai, 165 miles south. We cursed our luck at being stuck literally in the middle of nowhere. We worried about being round pegs in a square hole full of scuba veterans. And we were certain that a diet of unabated diving would leave us stir-crazy after a couple of days. No beach? Are you kidding?

Kapalai, as we soon learned, is spare, but not spartan — its 59 chalets are roomy cathedrals with infinite ocean views from the decks, a cooling wind and nothing but the sound of lapping water and the sway of creaking timbers to lull you to sleep. No restaurant scene here: the food, a fish-heavy mix of Malaysian cuisine and Western favorites like spaghetti for the younger set, is cooked on-site and served at a sprawling buffet. Nor are there televisions, in-room telephones or room service, though Wi-Fi can be had in the combination dining room and lobby. Diversions are limited to a tiny gift shop, a rudimentary bar, a Ping-Pong table and a stack of books on local sea life. Beyond the daily speedboats that deliver fresh guests and remove stale ones, about the only visitors are Malaysian armed forces patrols on the lookout for pirates (more on that later).


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Explorer : Mud, Leeches and Stunning Beauty in Tasmania

Alex Hutchinson for The New York Times

Waves crash into the shore along Tasmania's South Coast Track.

I stole my first glimpses of Tasmania's rocky southern coastline from about 2,000 feet up, peering through the rounded pane of the cockpit window whenever I felt composed enough to look up from my sick bag. Beside me, our pilot, Thomas, was riding the yoke as if it was a mechanical bull, trying to keep the single-engine Cessna steady as gusts roared in from the Southern Ocean.

My wife, Lauren, and I were on our way to the starting point of the South Coast Track, a seven-day tramp along a trail that remains as untamed now as it was over a century ago, when the route was first blazed to help shipwrecked sailors find their way back to civilization. This swath of wilderness, protected as part of the 2,300-square-mile Southwest National Park, is the last stop from Australia before Antarctica. Its remoteness, rugged terrain and often fearsome weather have kept it essentially uninhabited and unexploited — for good reason, as we would soon find out.

We had ordered a slim guidebook to the trail — the only one available — and were reassured to read that "many experienced walkers regard the track as easy." The route spans a modest 52 miles, with campsites peppered throughout, so we decided to finish it in seven days (the guide recommended seven or eight), and splice a demanding three-day side trip to a nearby mountain peak into the middle, for a total of 10 days. After all, we didn't want to squander our vacation on an insufficiently challenging trip.

Thomas finally turned the plane inland, and pointed into the distance. We could see a tiny splotch of white in the otherwise unbroken sea of green scrubland: a patch of flat gravel that would serve as our makeshift airstrip. From here we would hike back down to the coast, then follow it from the southwest corner of the island to the southeast, finishing at the southernmost tip of the southernmost road in Australia — a spot marked by a wooden sign engraved with the words "The End of the Road" — where a pickup truck would be waiting to shuttle us back to Hobart, the Tasmanian capital. (The trail has been unaffected by recent widespread wildfires.)

That first day — after our inner ears had regained their equilibrium — was idyllic. After three hours of walking across gentle buttongrass plains, we reached the coast and camped in a sheltered grove of eucalyptus trees next to a creek. As the sun set, we strolled along a beach dotted with starfish, watching wallabies and pademelons — mini kangaroos, essentially — feed among the dunes, while oystercatchers swooped above the crashing waves.

We woke the next morning to the steady patter of rain on our tent — not a big surprise in a region where it rains an average 250 days a year, but a gentle reminder that the trip wouldn't be all moonlit walks and cute marsupials. We hastily strung up the ultralight silicone-coated tarp we'd bought specially for the trip, and breakfasted under it in relative comfort. Then we hoisted our packs and set out eastward along the beach.

Though the route follows the water as much as possible, there are stretches where the coastal cliffs are impassable. This necessitates long inland detours across poorly drained moors, through lush rain forest, over two subalpine mountain ranges and through dense scrub that's "as thick as hair on a cat's back," as one of the original trailblazers described it in 1906.

Much has been done since those days to smooth the passage of the modern traveler — boardwalks over some of the swampier quagmires, ropes strung across deep river crossings, basic pit toilets at some of the most common camping spots. Still, no two trips along the trail follow exactly the same path, thanks to the constantly shifting coastline and the tides. Picking our way along the route, we started to get a taste of the coastline's stunning topographical diversity: beaches alternating with rocky inlets, gnarled trees twisting away from the salty wind, columns of water erupting from blowholes at the base of dramatic cliffs.

Partway through our second morning, we reached a set of cliffs that jutted out into the water, blocking the beach we were trying to follow. Skirting the base of these cliffs is "normally easy except at high tide," our guidebook blithely assured us. Seeing that the tide was still rising, we hurriedly began to pick our way from boulder to boulder, scurrying along the sand between waves.

It turns out that oceans are much less regular and predictable than we, in our landlubbering ignorance, had presumed. Rocks that had been comfortably out of the water during one set of waves were suddenly under two feet of pushy surf in the next set. Soaked to the thighs and clinging to the abrasive cliff face with white knuckles, we eventually made it to the other side with a recalibrated sense of what "normally easy" means.


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Explorer : Mud, Leeches and Stunning Beauty in Tasmania

Written By wartini cantika on Sabtu, 26 Januari 2013 | 17.35

Alex Hutchinson for The New York Times

Waves crash into the shore along Tasmania's South Coast Track.

I stole my first glimpses of Tasmania's rocky southern coastline from about 2,000 feet up, peering through the rounded pane of the cockpit window whenever I felt composed enough to look up from my sick bag. Beside me, our pilot, Thomas, was riding the yoke as if it was a mechanical bull, trying to keep the single-engine Cessna steady as gusts roared in from the Southern Ocean.

My wife, Lauren, and I were on our way to the starting point of the South Coast Track, a seven-day tramp along a trail that remains as untamed now as it was over a century ago, when the route was first blazed to help shipwrecked sailors find their way back to civilization. This swath of wilderness, protected as part of the 2,300-square-mile Southwest National Park, is the last stop from Australia before Antarctica. Its remoteness, rugged terrain and often fearsome weather have kept it essentially uninhabited and unexploited — for good reason, as we would soon find out.

We had ordered a slim guidebook to the trail — the only one available — and were reassured to read that "many experienced walkers regard the track as easy." The route spans a modest 52 miles, with campsites peppered throughout, so we decided to finish it in seven days (the guide recommended seven or eight), and splice a demanding three-day side trip to a nearby mountain peak into the middle, for a total of 10 days. After all, we didn't want to squander our vacation on an insufficiently challenging trip.

Thomas finally turned the plane inland, and pointed into the distance. We could see a tiny splotch of white in the otherwise unbroken sea of green scrubland: a patch of flat gravel that would serve as our makeshift airstrip. From here we would hike back down to the coast, then follow it from the southwest corner of the island to the southeast, finishing at the southernmost tip of the southernmost road in Australia — a spot marked by a wooden sign engraved with the words "The End of the Road" — where a pickup truck would be waiting to shuttle us back to Hobart, the Tasmanian capital. (The trail has been unaffected by recent widespread wildfires.)

That first day — after our inner ears had regained their equilibrium — was idyllic. After three hours of walking across gentle buttongrass plains, we reached the coast and camped in a sheltered grove of eucalyptus trees next to a creek. As the sun set, we strolled along a beach dotted with starfish, watching wallabies and pademelons — mini kangaroos, essentially — feed among the dunes, while oystercatchers swooped above the crashing waves.

We woke the next morning to the steady patter of rain on our tent — not a big surprise in a region where it rains an average 250 days a year, but a gentle reminder that the trip wouldn't be all moonlit walks and cute marsupials. We hastily strung up the ultralight silicone-coated tarp we'd bought specially for the trip, and breakfasted under it in relative comfort. Then we hoisted our packs and set out eastward along the beach.

Though the route follows the water as much as possible, there are stretches where the coastal cliffs are impassable. This necessitates long inland detours across poorly drained moors, through lush rain forest, over two subalpine mountain ranges and through dense scrub that's "as thick as hair on a cat's back," as one of the original trailblazers described it in 1906.

Much has been done since those days to smooth the passage of the modern traveler — boardwalks over some of the swampier quagmires, ropes strung across deep river crossings, basic pit toilets at some of the most common camping spots. Still, no two trips along the trail follow exactly the same path, thanks to the constantly shifting coastline and the tides. Picking our way along the route, we started to get a taste of the coastline's stunning topographical diversity: beaches alternating with rocky inlets, gnarled trees twisting away from the salty wind, columns of water erupting from blowholes at the base of dramatic cliffs.

Partway through our second morning, we reached a set of cliffs that jutted out into the water, blocking the beach we were trying to follow. Skirting the base of these cliffs is "normally easy except at high tide," our guidebook blithely assured us. Seeing that the tide was still rising, we hurriedly began to pick our way from boulder to boulder, scurrying along the sand between waves.

It turns out that oceans are much less regular and predictable than we, in our landlubbering ignorance, had presumed. Rocks that had been comfortably out of the water during one set of waves were suddenly under two feet of pushy surf in the next set. Soaked to the thighs and clinging to the abrasive cliff face with white knuckles, we eventually made it to the other side with a recalibrated sense of what "normally easy" means.


17.35 | 0 komentar | Read More
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