Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review: Travels

Travels by Michael Crichton is a little known auto-biography composed of stories about medicine, travel, and pseudo-science. Mr. Crichton started life as a medical student, but quit medicine to pursue his writing/producing career in Hollywood. As his career peaks, he decides that he needs to make some changes in his life. These changes encompass expanding his world-view in terms of people, places, and ideas. He starts to travel to remote parts of the globe including Africa, Nepal, Jamaica, etc. Like many travelers, Mr. Crichton's adventures challenge him in new ways that he couldn't experience at home.

While the pseudo-science chapters often seem kind of silly, I respect Mr. Crichton for approaching new ideas head-on. He channels spirits, meets Tarot card readers, and sleeps in the desert with a cactus. He clearly takes these alternative views seriously, but it is hard to come to the same conclusions he does. See a Q&A with Mr. Crichton on his website, here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review: Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story

Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story is the auto-biographical story of Tony and Maureen Wheeler's rise to the top of the travel industry from their first cross-continent trip from England to Australia. It is an amazing story of how they turned a simple guide about this trip into a publishing phenomenon that is known around the world as the guidebook of choice for any traveler. It was clearly a long road for these inveterate travelers, and you have to root for their success as they overcome the highs and lows of traveling, business, and relationships. The names and places can be overwhelming when describing countries that few readers have traveled to, but the book is really about their experiences.

After reading about the Wheeler's adventures, you feel ready to travel anywhere, the more obscure the better. It seems like there is no limit to your travels, and I find it encouraging to overcome fears of the unknown and just go.

Check out Rick Steves' podcast for an interview with Tony Wheeler about the book:
Apple: link
Windows: link

Hostel Review: HI Conway Hostel [Conway, NH]

With the leaves in New England turning the forest into a painted canvas, my parents and I headed upto New Hampshire for a weekend of leaf-peeping. The HI Conway hostel is ideally located near the White Mountains, we headed north in a rented mini-van. We stopped along the way at the Weather Vane restaurant for a couple of lobsters and a lobster roll. Instead of taking the more traditional route of 93N and 112E to Conway along the Kancamagus highway, we drove 95N to Portsmouth, and then took 16N. We passed the Redhook Ale brewery in Portsmouth, but we didn't have a chance to stop. Maybe next time. Concord Coach also offers a bus service to Conway for about $65 r/t from Boston, so there is an option for those with out a car.

We arrived after dark and were first informed that the only rule at the hostel is no shoes in the hostel. The hostel provides a large assortment of cubby-holes to hold your shoes as you walk around in your socks or bare-foot. I found this rule strange, and I more than once looked around the room wondering where my shoes were. However, I got used to it, and chalked it up to an easy way to keep the hostel clean. I had suggested my parents get a room, and I stay in the dorms, but they instead reserved a "family room". I expected the room to include at least one double bed, but instead we had 2 bunk-beds for 4 people. The room included a mini-fridge, but we had to use the bathrooms down the hall. The first night we arrived I cooked a salmon in the well-kept kitchen, and my parents baked an instant lasagna. The common area was full of hostellers, and most were watching one of the Lord of the Rings movies.

That night our room was plenty warm, but it did seem to oscillate between hot and cold a few times. The showers had abundant hot water and good water pressure. I found the hostel a good experience, but I think my parents were disappointed they didn't get a continental breakfast, which was mentioned in their Frommer's guide. The hostel guests were pretty evenly split between respectful foreign travelers and middle-age/older Americans, so I wouldn't call it a party hostel. We were only there Thursday and Friday night, but I suspect it was busier Saturday night. The hostel room cost $48 + $10 (extra person) for the three of us per night. We paid $89 in Woodstock for a normal hotel room with 2 double beds, bathroom, and TV on Saturday.

We had a car, and it wasn't clear how far you could get from the Hostel w/o a car. The local attractions are the outlet malls, the Conway train, and the White Mountains Park, which aren't exactly close to the hostel. I will have to explore the public transportation the next time I go.