Monthly Archives: February 2014

Film Location Fun & Folly

I still remember the first time I saw a film location site in person. I was young—preteens for sure. My dad had a business trip in L.A. and was able to have me come along. After the event was over we stayed another few days, and being the wonderful dad that he is, he worked it out so that we could stay at the Bonaventure Hotel with its famous outdoor elevators that also played a pivotal role in what was at that time one of my favorite movies: Midnight Madness. I don’t imagine many will recall that kitschy film of 1980 starring a very young Michael J. Fox, but for me, riding that elevator and peering down to see if the pool chairs were still arranged to spell out the location of the finish line (they weren’t) was a moment of cinematic glory and high point in my life to that point. Too bad we can’t stay 12 forever.

 

Aging aside, I know that I still enjoy being in famous film locales regardless if I’ve ever seen them or not. Somehow the fact that a motion picture studio would choose to work their magic in a given place sort of gives weight to a location, as if an appearance on the big screen makes that site a celebrity in and of itself. While I’ve never been star-struck by celebrities in the human form, there have been a few locales that I would have asked for their autograph if only they could hold a pen. Below I’ve included some of my favorites. And for those of you who DO remember Midnight Madness, I challenge you to read on without the cheesy theme song running in your head.

 

Mehrangarh Fort, Johdpur, India

 

My wife Susie posing in front of Batman's "prison"

My wife Susie posing in front of Batman’s “prison”

It was during my visit in December 2011 that I learned that only a few months before, filming had wrapped up for the upcoming Batman installment The Dark Knight Rises. I had to wait until the following summer to see what they filmed, but sitting in the theater I felt a thrill of excitement when I saw Bruce Wayne climb out of a hole with this massive landmark behind him. I also got a charge of seeing Ra’s Al Ghul walking the same embattlements that I did with the ethereal blue city in the background. The urge to jump up and shout “I was there!” was strong, but I thought jumping up and shouting in a crowded theater might cause more trouble than it’s worth, so I savored my connection silently.

 

Deer Park Heights, Queenstown, New Zealand

 

In Front of the Remarkables Range, a.k.a. Rohan, Deer Park Heights, NZ

In Front of the Remarkables Range, a.k.a. Rohan, Deer Park Heights, NZ

It is impossible to visit New Zealand and not stumble across one or more locations used in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In a game park across from the activity-packed town of Queenstown in the southwestern corner of the South Island, these sloping mountainsides of grassy tussock, rocky outcroppings and small tarns with the snow-covered Remarkables Range in the background, doubled for the land of Rohan and featured prominently in the film The Two Towers. It’s a fun place to spend an afternoon with some gorgeous scenery. These days it is also decidedly orc-free, which makes traveling a lot easier.

 

The Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

 

Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

While I wasn’t crazy about the movie Couples Retreat, I was absolutely bonkers over the magnificent setting on Bora Bora. In a time of CGI and special effects, none are needed for the lagoon, which is arguably the most appealing body of water in the world. The movie was made long after I had been there, but I enjoyed seeing it again if only to validate my previously formed opinions.

 

There are many more places I can list but I think I’ve made my point. Having something from the silver screen on your camera’s viewfinder is one of the joys of travel. And sometimes it is that one scene in a movie you love that will send you on a trip many thousands of miles away. Is it silly? Yes. Is it fun? Sure it is, and it’s just another reason to get out into the big wide world.

 

Is there a location made famous in a movie that gave you a thrill to visit in person? Share it here! And if you remember Midnight Madness please share it here as well!

Categories: Anecdotes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

New or Old, Delhi Has Plenty on the Menu

When I was planning my trip to India, the only reason I included Delhi was because it would be our port of entry. I thought anything worth seeing would be in Agra, Jaipur or scattered around Rajahstan. I thought Delhi—New or Old, would be worth little more than a day’s attention, with more important sights lying further afield.

 

I thought wrong.

 

To my surprise and delight, Delhi had some world class attractions that I’m glad I didn’t miss. And to make sure that you don’t miss them the next time you happen to be in the Indian capital, I’ve included some high points here

 

Chandni Chowk

 

The electrifying atmosphere of the Chandni Chowk

The electrifying atmosphere of the Chandni Chowk

Literally at the doorstep of the impressive Jama Masjid—the largest mosque in India—this ancient bazaar was among the highlights of my entire trip. If India has been described as an assault on the senses, then the Chandni Chowk would be an upgrade to aggravated assault with the intent to overwhelm. This labyrinth of impossibly narrow alleyways jam-packed with rickshaws, vendors and pedestrians is fertile ground for a complete sensory overload. Between the colors of the bangles and saris stacked to the ceilings, the omnipresent honking of horns (a phenomenon repeated all throughout India), the smell of frying samosas mixed with diesel fumes, and the dramatic absence of personal space, if you don’t find your senses engaged at full throttle then you’d probably better start checking for a pulse.

 

As I sat there, crammed up against my wife in the back of a rickshaw and staring up at the frightening web of electrical wires crisscrossing overhead, I thought to myself: What a wonderful introduction to India!

 

Humayun’s Tomb

The Poor Man's Taj--Humayun's Tomb

The Poor Man’s Taj–Humayun’s Tomb

 

This monument to love was a forerunner to the bigger and bolder Taj Mahal, sharing many architectural similarities as well as its common theme—in this case it was the wife building the monument for her deceased husband. Strolling the expansive grounds and taking in the extensive artistry, a visit to Humayun’s Tomb is a foretaste of a visit to Agra, and a worthy site in its own rite. There’s little wonder the UNSECO World Heritage List thought so as well.

 

Qutb Minar Complex

 

The Qutb Minar. Wanna buy a vowel?

The Qutb Minar. Wanna buy a vowel?

On the outskirts of the city lies the Qutb Minar Complex—a series of ancient buildings built at the onset of Islamic rule, with every square inch adorned with flowing characters. The highlight here is the tower itself—73 meters of sandstone and marble in five sections—certainly a marvel of engineering considering construction began in 1193 CE. Admiring the handiwork and pervasive abundance of ornamentation here and elsewhere, I found this area enchanting and a fantastic palate for some great photo ops.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what there is to see and do in Delhi. There’s the India Gate, Raj Ghat, Lotus Temple, Red Fort, along with all sorts of modern conveniences and shopping malls. Plus Delhi boasts an efficient and clean subway system, which ironically was the most orderly and hygienic place I encountered in the whole country. So if Delhi is your port of entry, make it a point to stick around for a day or two to take in its multitude of sights. New or Old, there’s plenty on the menu.

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

All Caribbean Islands Are Not Created Equal (Despite What The Beach Boys Imply)

Trunk Bay, St. Johns, USVI

Trunk Bay, St. Johns, USVI

 

“Aruba. Jamaica. Oooh I want to take you to Bermuda, Bahama. Come on pretty mama…” Thanks a lot Beach Boys. Your song Kokomo just reinforces a stereotype that geographically-challenged Americans have about the Caribbean. Namely, that it’s all the same. Now it’s up to me, and others like me, to set matters straight, and I can do so in two words, not counting the contraction: It’s not.

 

Sure, I suppose there are some common elements—turquoise waters, coral reefs, a laid back lifestyle and such. But saying that the islands of the Caribbean are all the same is like saying all dogs are alike, or telling an Italian that any type of pasta will do. Not only is it blatantly wrong but also likely to raise the ire of those who know better (especially the Italians). So in the spirit of setting the record straight, here’s a brief overview of the Caribbean and the various flavors to be found within.

 

Bermuda & Bahamas

 

Turtle Cove, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

Turtle Cove, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

Technically neither is a ‘tropical’ destination since both lie north of the Tropic of Cancer. And since we’re being technical, Bermuda isn’t even in the Caribbean Sea but rather due east of the Carolinas. Regardless, many lump these in with the Caribbean Islands so I’ve included them here. Bermuda, while enjoying much milder temperatures than the North American landmass to the west, is not a year-round destination if you’re looking for sand and sun. By October things are starting to cool down, and while there are still things to do and see, it is much more pleasant when you can lie comfortably on one of their famous pink sand beaches.

 

As for the Bahamas, this archipelago consists primarily of flat, sandy islands with green vegetation. Not much in the way of mountains or waterfalls here, but if it’s a pleasant beach or interesting dive spot you’re after, so long as you hit the weather right in the winter it is a nice destination if you can avoid the persistent vendors. Continuing to the southeast, the Turks & Caicos Islands are more of the same—flat, relatively featureless topography with azure waters on all sides. The only difference in my estimation is the political boundary.

 

Greater Antilles

 

Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica

Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica

This term refers to the largest islands of the Caribbean: Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti & the D.R.), Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Forming the northern boundary of the Caribbean Sea, these islands have rugged, mountainous interiors, palm-fringed beaches and colorful colonial histories. With the exception of Cuba which is still pretty much off-limits to American tourists, and Haiti which has an underdeveloped infrastructure and relative political instability, tourism is alive and well. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are extremely popular all-inclusive destinations, though with the proper tour operator and/or a good head on your shoulders there’s plenty to see outside the resort’s grounds—especially Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios. You’ll have to run a gauntlet of vendors but it truly is a world-class site.

 

Lesser Antilles

 

Roadside Bar, Roseau, Dominica

Roadside Bar, Roseau, Dominica

The Lesser Antilles are basically all the islands starting from the U.S. & British Virgin Islands & curving down to Trinidad and the northern shores of South America. These islands are what most envision (erroneously) the entire Caribbean as being—mountainous, waterfall-strewn, jungle-clad jewels of green in a turquoise setting. And while they share the same general topography, the varied colonial heritage of each island makes the local flavor a bit different from the next. You have your former English colonies at Antigua, St. Kitts & Nevis, Barbados and Montserrat. You’ve got your French islands like Martinique & Guadeloupe. And you even have the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten that’s half French and half Dutch. Try telling them that it’s all the same.

 

The ABC Islands

 

Playa Knip, Curacao

Playa Knip, Curacao

This term refers to the Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. In contrast to the Antilles both Greater and Lesser, you will not find lush rain forests, gushing waterfalls or emerald mountain ranges here. These islands are dry, windswept, & semi-desert-like. On the windward side of the islands waves batter & scour the jagged coastline, whereas on the leeward sides you’ll find tranquil clear waters and some great diving and snorkeling. Standards of living are a bit higher here and colonial towns such as Willemstad & Oranjestad offer charming architecture and plenty of shopping opportunities. All of this is fine—just know what you’re getting into.

 

I hope this brief overview clears up some of the common misconceptions about Caribbean islands, and may it serve as a lesson to those who accept songs at their word. For the sake of truth, knowledge, and geographical consciousness everywhere, before you lump an entire geographical region all together, consult a map, consult a professional, or even consult me. Just don’t ask the Beach Boys 🙂

 

 

 

 

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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